The Exeter, California, Cemetery looked like a scene out of the Norman Rockwell paintings that captured the spirit of America on magazine covers for so many decades. Despite the Governor’s orders, over 100 volunteers had gathered to place American flags on the graves of the 2,000 veterans buried there.
A few walked patiently and alone as they searched the thousands of grave markers. Apparently, family groups, from grandparents to toddlers, gathered around a few headstones – perhaps to honor and remember a fallen father, brother or son. They were not an organized group and the vast expanse of that cemetery assured they maintained “social distance.”
Decorating the veteran’s graves has been an annual American day of remembrance since the end of our Civil War in 1865. But 155 years later, a handful of political leaders have ignored our Constitution to decree “It is too dangerous to gather to place flags on those graves.”
Even the American Legion and the Boy Scouts were ordered to “stand down.”
The veterans buried there all raised their right hands and swore the military Enlistment Oath – “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic…..” The first amendment to that Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Two Exeter sisters, Crystal Havner and Penny VanFossen, refused to let Memorial Day, 2020, pass without remembering and honoring those who served – whether they died in battle or not. They personally bought 2,000 American Flags and put out a call for volunteers to help place them. The response was overwhelming and a “Go Fund Me” account quickly covered the significant cost.
Crystal seems like such a gentle woman during our Senior Citizen Golf Tournaments at the Exeter Golf Course. But she was a terrific, motivated and patriotic orator when I first asked her about the plan. “What do they mean when the politicians say it is too dangerous?” “What about the danger the men buried there faced in the trenches as they fought the wars to defend our nation?” She went on – “I couldn’t do that and it is our duty to honor them for their sacrifice.” “Our risk is insignificant compared to what they faced.”
Someday we will again have Veterans Day and Memorial Day parades. Those who served, whether in battle or not, will stand a little straighter to salute the passing flag. The bugle call for Taps, will stir old memories for them. Locally, those memories will include a salute to Crystal and Penny for their courage and initiative during a time of crisis.