Clayton American Legion Post 71 places flags on the graves of veterans

ndunn@newsobserver.comMay 30, 2014 

— Words in small white letters cover Devell Durham’s T-shirt. They say “Honor,” “Commitment,” “Unity” and “Respect.”

As the U.S. Marine Corps veteran walks among the graves in Pinecrest Memorial Park in Clayton, he uses the same sentiments to describe his departed comrades.

“Without warriors doing the sacrificing, we fail to exist as a nation,” says Durham, the incoming commander of American Legion Post 71 in Clayton.

Durham was among nearly 50 veterans, Cub Scouts and Junior ROTC members who placed flags at the graves of area servicemen and women on Memorial Day. It’s a tradition that goes back more than a decade, said Ken Parker, a post member and Marine Corps veteran.

Parker said some of the graves are home to the nearly 10 post members who have died in the past year, including three who were buried in the last month.

“We do it because we want to honor them and don’t want anyone to forget them,” Parker said. Memorial Day, he added, “is not a hot dog-hamburger day; it’s a remembrance day.”

Every year, the group places more than 500 flags in seven cemeteries in and around Clayton. The morning event precedes that night’s Post Everlasting ceremony, which salutes local veterans who died in the past year.

Post 71’s flag tradition is one of many throughout Johnston County and the state. The N.C. American Legion holds its annual Memorial Day ceremony each Sunday before the Monday holiday in Raleigh National Cemetery on Rock Quarry Road.

This year in Smithfield, Johnston officials honored Chris Bohler during a Memorial Day ceremony in front of the county courthouse. Bohler, 29, died last December in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan. He graduated from South Johnston High School and served in the U.S. Army.

Post 71 member J.S. “Willie” Williams, a Marine Corps veteran, walked up and down the rows of graves in Pinecrest looking for the special lettering that denotes servicemen and women. After placing a flag at each grave, he saluted, which he said is his way of showing respect.

Williams, who served from 1971 to 1984, said he hopes people realize the true reason for Memorial Day.

“The reasons everyone can have cookouts and go on vacation is because of them,” he said, pointing to the graves. “The reason we have freedom is because of them.”

Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104

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