Over Memorial Day weekend, approximately 20,000 individuals visited Westlawn-Hillcrest Cemetery to pay their respects to the fallen and witness the breathtaking sight of the cemetery adorned with stars and stripes.
The profound impact of the Memorial Day Flag Project was evident as Navy Veteran Carl Diamond expressed his admiration, stating, “When you come through the cemetery over the next week and see all the flags out there — it’s as beautiful as any national cemetery in the country.” Marine Veteran Matt Diggle added, “It’s just a moment of awe. You just really can’t put it into words… Just that deep sense of gratefulness.”
Initiated in 2009 by Diamond and Centennial Lodge #326, the Memorial Day Flag Project has experienced remarkable growth in its 15th year. With the assistance of over 250 volunteers, a record-breaking time of two-and-a-half hours was achieved as they meticulously placed around 8,500 flags on the graves of veterans last Wednesday. Diamond expressed his astonishment at the project’s expansion, saying, “Not in a million years would we have thought this… This has been fantastic.”
The project demands year-round dedication from Diamond, the lodge, and their collaborators. The list of flags continues to expand annually, with Diamond explaining, “We search the obituaries, we get deaths from the funeral home, we search, find a grave — so we add somewhere between 200, 300 names every year.”
Westlawn-Hillcrest Cemetery acquires and stores all the flags that honor the veterans resting in its grounds. These flags symbolize the sacrifices made by the veterans to safeguard their nation. Dixie Davis Jr., the Family Services Manager at Westlawn-Hillcrest, expressed his unwavering support, stating, “It was a no-brainer when we started and it’s a no-brainer today… All waving at the same time — it’s a beautiful sight.”
Cindy Mason, a volunteer from Hillcrest Health Services, emphasized the emotional significance of the project, stating, “It’s truly emotional. There’s a lot of pride, a lot of honor, and a lot of respect.” Mason further highlighted the importance of recognizing and honoring veterans who may have been forgotten or left behind, asserting, “These veterans deserve to be recognized… so being able to partner with them to show the respect they deserve is really very meaningful.”
as Diggle believes its legacy will endure. Leading the employee resource group for veterans and first responders at NFM, Diggle revealed the overwhelming support from his colleagues, stating, “We have well over 100 staff (at NFM) who have served in the military or are currently serving, so it just means a lot to our staff to be able to come out and participate.”
For some volunteers, the cemetery holds a personal connection, with family members who served and are buried there. This proximity to their loved ones’ final resting place further fuels their dedication to the project. However, the underlying motivation remains honoring the veterans who may lack family nearby or have passed away, ensuring they receive the recognition they deserve.
Diamond encapsulated the purpose of their efforts, gesturing to the words on the back of his shirt that read, “A veteran never dies until they’re forgotten. So, we’re trying to remember all these veterans.”
Memorial Day serves as a reminder to reflect upon and express gratitude for the service of countless individuals. Diggle emphasized the importance of taking the time to acknowledge these sacrifices, stating, “It’s important to take that time to step back and reflect about all those who have served. Those who have really given up some of their own freedoms to help protect the ones that we have.”
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