More than 2,000 flags mark veterans’ graves at Evergreen Mortuary & Cemetery this Memorial Day.
Members of the American Legion Morgan McDermott Post 7 — the oldest in Tucson, dating to 1919 — along with volunteers put Old Glory at the graves to honor all veterans for their service.
Memorial Day, which was formerly known as Decoration Day, was established in 1868 after the Civil War. In 1971, Congress declared it a national holiday and moved it from May 30 to the last Monday in May.
For post auxiliary member Mary Manges, the day brings back emotional memories for those who survived war but saw buddies die on battlefields. The day is emotional for the families, relatives and friends of soldiers who never returned, and for those who did but were forever changed by the bloodshed.
It is a day to pay respect to all servicemen and servicewomen who gave of themselves to protect the freedoms of Americans, said post Cmdr. Maurice Bradford, 68, a civil engineer who served in the Air Force in the 1960s and the Army National Guard and Air National Guard in the 1980s.
Manges, 54, said she learned the importance of Memorial Day from her grandfather, Leonard “Mack” McCulloch, a soldier who served during World War II.
“He didn’t talk about the war much,” Manges said of her grandfather. “He lost his younger brother in the war. He was 18, and he died in combat,” recalled Manges, who began putting flags at the graves of veterans at Evergreen alongside her grandfather when she was 10.
The post has placed flags and organized a Memorial Day ceremony at the cemetery, 3015 N. Oracle Road at Fort Lowell Road, for more than 50 years. Today’s observance begins at 9 a.m. at the flagpole near the veterans’ section.
Earlier, volunteers walked through the cemetery and put up 2,636 flags at the graves of veterans in their special section, and those who were buried throughout the cemetery. The number of flags has increased over the years, and the post has spent about $20,000 in buying flags for the graves over the decades, Manges said.
“When I go to my grandfather’s grave, I cry because I remember that he and other soldiers went to war to protect us,” Manges said. “They loved their country and their flag.”
For volunteer Charles Foley, Memorial Day strikes a special chord. Foley, an officer with the Tucson Police Department, volunteered along with fellow officers and friends to place flags at graves.
Foley comes from a long line of veterans. His father was a Marine who served in Korea as a supply clerk in 1954; an uncle saw heavy combat in the Army in the South Pacific; and many cousins also served in combat — one under Gen. George S. Patton and another with Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
Honoring servicemen and servicewomen and Old Glory is special for Foley, 46, who along with fellow Officer Bradley Clark, 56, a 20-year combat Army veteran, founded the nonprofit organization Flags for the Flagless nearly one year ago. Since then, the two — with help from community support and some $4,000 in donations — have placed flags on empty flagpoles in the city, and are now providing flags to schools.
On June 12, the two will be in Brooklyn, New York, because they received a request from the maintenance supervisor of PS 277 school that it needed 30 flags for classrooms. A family-owned business of a friend, whom Foley contacted for help in New York, donated $330 to Flags for the Flagless to buy the flags for the school.
While Foley speaks to schoolchildren about the significance of America’s flag, post members also tell younger adults about how the American Legion supports veterans with health care, financial and educational issues. The post has 350 members, including those who have served in World War II on up to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
Many continue giving back to their community, Bradford said, by volunteering at the local veterans hospital, officially known as the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System.
And today, members will join the community to honor comrades.