‘Memorial’ act of valor
by DELANEY WALKER Banner Staff Writer
May 25, 2014 | 4045 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Memorial Day 525
SCOUTS GATHER outside the Bradley County Courthouse as American Legion Post 81 Commander Wes Billings addresses the importance of honoring the 1.3 million American troops who have lost their lives protecting their country, as well as their families. Banner photo, HOWARD PIERCE
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American Legion Unit 81 led a Memorial Day observance at the Bradley County Courthouse in downtown Cleveland on Saturday with a number of local Boy Scout troops in attendance.

The observation was held prior to the Boy Scout troops’ annual placement of American flags on the graves of deceased veterans.

American Legion Commander Wes Billings ensured the young men knew the history of the holiday.

He said Memorial Day was originally established as Decoration Day in 1868. Citizens were encouraged to decorate the graves of the fallen. A group of ladies began the tradition.

“They went to the Friendship Cemetery. They wanted to decorate the graves of the fallen Confederate soldiers. Upon doing this, they realized there were some soldiers buried in that cemetery who weren’t Confederate. They were Union troops,” Billings said, before adding the animosity between the two sides had not quite diminished in the two years since the Civil War.

“Those ladies put that aside and said these men fought for something they believed in,” he explained. “They fought for a way of life, so they also decorated their graves.”

Boy Scouts from Bradley County and Cleveland continue the tradition today.

“Today, we honor the presentation of the flags for the Boy Scouts, their work with the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars and their showing their patriotism and their Americanism in their honor and their respect to our veterans,” Billings said. “To you Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts, I tip my hat to you. It means a lot to every veteran here that you want to honor us by doing this.”

He said he knows it is not easy walking through the cemetery to find the appropriate gravestones.

“But, when you plant that flag, you need to thank the person,” Billings said. “Because of them, you are able to live the way you do, be in the Boy Scouts and your children will be raised in a blanket of freedom.” 

Jimmy Ortiz described the opportunity to plant the flags as “humbling.”

“I’m proud to honor the troops,” fellow Boy Scout Ethan Cavanaugh said.

District Activities and Civic Service chairman Dr. Cecil Stanbery of the Ocoee District of the Cherokee Area Council said the placement of flags on the graves of veterans is an opportunity to teach the Boy Scouts duty and honor to the country.

Added Stanbery, “A part of that is being a good citizen through honoring your veterans and the sacrifices they make.”

He explained a veteran spoke to his troop several weeks ago to give them a better understanding of the purpose of Memorial Day.

The scouts spread out across the county to reach as many cemeteries as possible to find the graves of veterans.

Billings urged those in attendance to remember Memorial Day is a time for honor and reflection, not a day of celebration.

“Maybe at your barbecue on Sunday or Monday, ask everyone there to take a moment,” he said.

“Say a little prayer of thanks for those men and women who did not come back, specifically for those families who had to get that letter or have that person show up at their door to say, ‘I’m sorry. Your son or daughter is not coming home.’”