Monday, May 30, 2011


Baltimore National Cemetery, Catonsville, MD
My older boys have been Scouts for years, and part of scouting means doing service. Cheerfully. Hands down, one of my favorite events each year is one known simply as "We Remember."

Each Memorial Day, Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts from around the area, representing troops and packs from the Arrowhead and National Pike districts of the Baltimore Area Council converge at the Baltimore National Cemetery to place flags on the headstones of the servicemen and women buried there. Flag placement is followed by a ceremony at the tomb of the unknown (conducted by members of the armed forces and various veterans groups). There are guns salutes. It is a solemn, poignant affair. Bagpipes at this cemetery send chills down your spine, as the eerie sound echoes across the rolling fields filled with row after row of small white headstones representing those who are gone.

The ceremony follows the Scouts' placement of a flag on each grave. We gather at our designated starting points around the cemetery, waiting to be given our flags and permission to start.

It takes mere minutes to blanket the property with the Stars and Stripes, even though each boy carefully measures the placement distance with his foot.

We start out near one of the cemetery's winding roads and fan out where ours rows take us. Its easy to lose track of where you are. In what seems like the blink of an eye, there are no more undecorated stones.

A moment of reverence for a fallen soldier.

That's when I look up and find myself lost in a sea of headstones, each one representing a life of service. Scanning the horizon in awe, I gather my Cub Scout, who is paused in the same moment of reverence. I look around as other leaders and parents are doing the same.

In proper United States Flag etiquette, you raise the banner quickly and take it down slowly. Here, we've fanned out swiftly to accomplish our task and then the poignancy of the moment gives us pause.

We walk back slowly together, and, after I gather my son from his Troop, head up the hill. We pass families paused in front of the headstones of family members. We thank the veterans who have come for the ceremony. Some wear caps that tell us where they served: Korea, World War II, Vietnam. Some are in uniform, still serving. Some are in wheelchairs, with daughters by their sides. My son pauses to shake the hand of one WWII veteran. "We remember," he tells him, reaching out to shake the man's hand.

From his wheelchair, he leans in and wraps his gnarled hands around my son's.

"Thank you."

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