Staff Photo by Gillian Bolsover -- Six-year-old Christopher Blackwell places a flag on a grave at the Chattanooga National Cemetery this morning. Hundreds of Boy and Girl Scouts came to the cemetery to take part in the annual event.
In preparation for Memorial Day, hundreds of young Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts gathered at the Chattanooga National Cemetery early Saturday to place American flags on more than 46,000 headstones.
The annual event included an opening ceremony at the Armed Forces Pavilion, complete with an invocation, the presentation of colors, a 21-gun salute and singing by the Choo Choo Chorus.
Rachelle Holmes, leader of Cub Scout Pack 67 from Varnell, Ga., said she thought the event would be an excellent learning experience, especially for her 10-year-old son, Trevor.
“On the way here, we explained a little bit about what it was, and they were all looking at the tombstones and were like, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of graves,’” she said. “I (hope) people get a sense of pride knowing that these people that are buried here either fought in a war or died in a war, and they represent the United States and freedom, kind of what the Scouts represent as well.”
Rear Admiral Noah Long was the guest speaker.
“This cemetery was founded and established in 1863, and if you look at a little bit of the history, you’ll find that there are over 12,000 soldiers who were killed in the battles around Chattanooga in the Civil War,” Adm. Long said in his address to the crowd.
“Of those 12,000, over 5,000 are unknown, so we not only have the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington, we have 5,000 unknown soldiers here,” he said.
Towards the end of the opening ceremonies, Adm. Long asked for all the veterans in attendance to come forward.
Their presence was welcomed by a long applause from the Scouts and their families.
Then the uniformed Scouts started at the top of cemetery’s hill. Carrying bundles of flags, the youngsters placed them one by one carefully on the tombstones.
With so many helping out, it took only about 20 minutes before every tombstone in the cemetery had an American flag placed in front of it.
This was the first time 10-year-old Olivia Terry, of Girl Scout Troop 180, has helped place flags on the graves.
Olivia said it was very important for her to be at the event because her father, a National Guardsman, is currently deployed.
“I think it feels good (to participate), and I think all the people that are going overseas and stuff would feel honored,” she said.
With several flags in hand, Matthew Smith, 14, a member of Boy Scout Troop 58, knew that his grandmother’s grave site would be his first stop.
Matthew said he’s participated in event for several years and enjoys honoring the fallen soldiers.
“I just feel like I’m giving back to the people that fell for us,” he said.
Afterwards, attendees returned to the pavilion for food and drinks. Patches were handed out to all the Scouts who helped with placing the flags.