Veterans carry out a somber task on Memorial Day

Last weekend, flags were placed by the graves of island veterans in tribute to their service.

With Roy Baumgartner (not pictured) holding the ladder, Ken Gresset raises a flag on Vashon Highway on Monday morning (Tom Hughes Photo).

With Roy Baumgartner (not pictured) holding the ladder, Ken Gresset raises a flag on Vashon Highway on Monday morning (Tom Hughes Photo).

Over Memorial Day weekend, a small group of Vashon veterans and volunteers made sure that observations marking the national day of honoring men and women who have died while serving in the U.S. military took place on Vashon.

But this year, the usual pomp and ceremony marking the day at the cemetery — complete with a color guard, bagpipes, taps and words from a chaplain — was missing, because of restrictions on gatherings in place due to coronavirus.

A sandwich board, propped at the cemetery’s entrance, noted that the public service, marking the day, had been canceled.

Still, on Saturday, members of the Vashon Veterans Association arrived at Vashon Cemetery to place flags on the graves of veterans buried throughout the rolling grounds. They were assisted by several families associated with Vashon Scout troops, though the Scouts, as an organization, did not officially take part in the activity this year.

The family units each set out separately with a map and armful of flags, methodically finding the graves of more than 600 veterans buried in the grounds.

Among those volunteering on Saturday, under a blue sky, were the Murphy family: parents Kelly and Stephen Murphy, and their son and daughter, Kora and George Murphy.

The family team of George, Kelly, Stephen and Kora Murphy helped place flags on the graves of veterans at Vashon Cemetary on Saturday (Tom Hughes Photo).

The family team of George, Kelly, Stephen and Kora Murphy helped place flags on the graves of veterans at Vashon Cemetary on Saturday (Tom Hughes Photo).

George, at age 16, is a Life Scout, one rank below Eagle Scout.

Stephen Murphy said that the family, who has deep family ties to Vashon, had come every year together to place flags for Memorial Day, since moving to the island three years ago. His grandparents and a great-uncle were also buried at the cemetery, he said.

And on Monday, the veterans’ group rallied again, in the rain-soaked early morning, to raise flags on Vashon to mark the official holiday.

Mike Mattingly, who helms the veteran’s association and is also the commander of Vashon’s VFW and American Legion, said the group raises the flags on Vashon for 13 different federal holidays, but this year, they had missed putting them up for the National Day of Prayer and Armed Forces Day.

But according to Mattingly, who served in Vietnam on a naval submarine, Memorial Day was too important for the group to miss marking.

“What do you think Memorial Day is for?” he said. “It’s for our fallen heroes who fought for us and didn’t get a chance to come back and enjoy our freedoms.”


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