It's the story that draws me toward the subtleties of life. A story contains more than the story, for within the story lies the root of meaning. In a recent conversation with my buddy Eddie Grigorian I found such an insightful revelation.
Eddie told of St. Bede Church Boy Scout Troop 507's efforts each Memorial Day, when the boys, along with Scouts from all over the Southland, place American flags on the graves of veterans. Approximately 88,000 flags adorn the gardens of stone at the Los Angeles National Veterans' Cemetery.
"This is a place of respect," Scoutmaster Mike Devine expresses to the boys. "Beneath your feet lie soldiers and sailors and you may be the only person who visits their grave for the entire year, or ever."
The boys, each dressed in his class A-uniform, approach the grave of a veteran. They stand at attention, salute and spend a silent and reverent moment contemplating the soldier that lies beneath them. To assure uniformity, the boys place the flag one step from the tombstone. Throughout the morning they often notice a plaque noting the soldier who lies beneath their feet won the Congressional Medal of Honor.
English poet John McCrae's poem "In Flanders Fields" explains the importance of paying homage to the fallen: "If ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep though poppies grown in Flanders Field." The boys of Troop 507 assure the continuance of the bond that should exist between the living and the dead.
Devine, a retired Navy captain, explained: "In the morning as the Scouts arrive, the boys see a sea of graves, and when they leave they witness the transformation to a sea of flags." He said the boys are so fastidious that if they should see a flag that is not perfectly aligned, they will make an immediate adjustment.
In February 1945, the United States captured the island of Iwo Jima from the Imperial Japanese Army. Approximately 7,000 sailors and Marines lost their lives in some of the fiercest and bloodiest fighting in the Pacific War. After the battle, Col. Harry B. Liversedge, the commanding officer of the 28th Marine Regiment, ordered the surviving Marines to walk through the 5th Marine Division cemetery and "Say goodbye to your buddies." The Marines entered the cemetery, located beneath the gaze of Mount Suribachi, and saw a sign tacked to the gate. The note read, "Fellows, when you go home tell everyone we did our best so you can have many more tomorrows." The Marines left the cemetery in tears, returned to Hawaii, and trained for the invasion of Japan.
The boys of Troop 507 are a high adventure troop. They have been to three National Jamborees and one world Jamboree. Currently, they are scheduled to attend the coming world Jamboree in Poland. Their troop flag is adorned with presidential ribbons. These unsurpassed experiences will enable their evolution from boys to men. Yet I believe the greatest gift they will receive is the reverence they acquire by tending the graves of the veterans.
"Let parents then bequeath to their children not riches but the spirit of reverence," Plato said.
"The boys are happy to do it," Eddie Grigorian said. "They approach this mission as though it were an honor. As the boys fan out to distribute the flags, the troop color guard stands at attention displaying U.S. and troop colors."
In a nation that battles political strife and social confusion, the boys of Troop 507 understand that the significance of Memorial Day is to honor those, who, according to poet McCrae "no longer feel the dawn or see the sunset glow." If we lose sight of their sacrifice, we'd hardly believe that freedom isn't free.
Carry on, Troop 507!