Today, I stood in a field of flags and watched as my small group of Cub Scouts walked through the cemetery gently placing a flag at every headstone. I watched them as they moved in pairs from grave to grave. As I watched I noticed two small Cub Scouts about four rows away from the other scouts. What caught my attention was the gentleness I saw in them. As they approached each grave they kneeled beside the headstone and gently brushed away the leaves that were covering it with their gloved hands. After they finished removing the leaves, they measured with their fingers before they placed the flags. Then they took a step back and straightened their uniforms before they snapped to a salute. As I stood there I heard a faint whisper come out of their mouths “thank you for your service…” I was so touched that I had to turn away from them to pull myself together. I really didn’t want them to see me cry.
I stood there so proud of my little group of boys. The time we spent out in the cemetery passed so quickly not one boy asked ” how much longer?” or “when can we go?” They were so serious and carried themselves with a purpose that I haven’t witnessed before. I was constantly scanning to keep track of all of the boys. When my eyes fell on the two boys again, I saw them standing near a row of flags and chatting to each other about something that appeared to be serious to them. I walked close to see what they were so serious about. As I approached them and asked what was wrong, they informed me that the flags along the two closest rows to them were placed wrong. The flags were placed behind the headstone instead of in front of them. They asked me for permission to move the flags to their proper placement and of course I gave it to them.
My attention was quickly drawn to a large group of ROTC Cadets from a local college, who had begun gathering and chatting loudly between each other. Moments later the Commander in charge of the Cadets came to me and asked me “Do the boys over there belong to you?” Of course, I admitted that they were my boys. He then proceeded to tell me that my boys were messing with the flags that his cadets had placed and it was disrespectful and I needed to control them. I called the boys over even though I knew what they were doing. I wanted them by my side in case one of the cadets approached them. When the boys arrived at my side I looked to them and asked the boys to “please tell this nice man why you are moving the flags that his cadets placed on the graves.” The boys turned from me to face the Commander and told him “Because the flags were placed wrong so we are moving them so that they are in their proper place.” The Commander looked at the boys and said “Boys, you should never play with the flags that are on the graves, it is disrespectful. The flags are not placed wrong.”
At that point, one of the two boys stated “but Mister the flags were placed wrong because a soldier never turns his back on the flag!” The Commander stood there staring at the boys as if to ask them what they meant by that statement. The boys almost in unison, explained that the flags had been placed behind the headstone instead of in front and that they knew the placement of the flags should be in front of the headstone because “a soldier never turns his back on the flag”, which was why they had so painstaking cleaned the tops of every headstone prior to placing each flag because they wanted to make sure that the soldier buried in that grave could see the flag. The Commander stood there looking at the boys in amazement. At that point, I bent down to the boys to face them at eye level and told them thank you for making sure that we were honoring our veterans properly. Before the boys walked away they made eye contact with the Commander and said to him “thank you for your service”. The Commander smiled at the boys and said the only word he could muster “thank you”.
(This piece was written 9 years ago today. I held onto it in my journal and from time to time I have recalled the story. This story is special to me and has always touched my heart. I do not often share stories of my Cub Scouts but these two were very special to me because one was my son and the other his good friend. Nine years later, my heart is still full of pride for these two guys. One is a “knob” (freshman) at The Citadel and the other a Senior in High School who will be receiving his Eagle Scout soon. When I look at these two guys I still see the same love and respect for our service men and women. I have no doubt that one day they will be doing great things for our nation.)
BOUHAMMER NOTE-This morning, just like the last 11 Veterans Days, the Cub Scouts from this pack are at the same cemetery placing flags at Veteran’s graves. Now it is our youngest son who is walking from stone to stone with his fellow scouts making sure that the Veterans NEVER turn their back on the flag.