Flag-planting at LI National Cemetery honors veterans in Memorial Day tradition

Boy Scout Joseph Caltabiano, 9, of West Babylon,

Boy Scout Joseph Caltabiano, 9, of West Babylon, plants American flags for Memorial Day at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale on Saturday, May 24, 2014. (Credit: Ed Betz)

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Jason Sanchez helped plant American flags yesterday to honor the veterans buried at the Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn.

Sanchez, who is in the Army Reserve, said a member of his unit died while serving in Afghanistan.

"I'm just here honoring my brothers, who gave me all this freedom I have here," said Sanchez, 47, of Levittown.

Veterans of several wars and volunteers from local Girl and Boy Scout troops came out to adorn the cemetery's roughly 245,000 marble headstones with flags -- a Memorial Day weekend tradition. A similar effort was made at Calverton National Cemetery.

This year, the Long Island National Cemetery Memorial Organization ordered about 4,500 patches for participating Scouts.

"We are celebrating the soldiers who died for our country," said 8-year-old Kerry Cohen, a Girl Scout Brownie from Plainview.

In the morning chill, Phil DeBlasio, 47, of St. James, walked through the neat rows of white headstones with his teenage son.

"I think it's important to show the kids the country we live in . . . and the sacrifice so many guys have made so we can continue to live in a free country," DeBlasio said.

Rich Hensl, 69, of Levittown, an Army veteran who fought in the Vietnam War, was planting flags at the cemetery for the 18th straight year.

"I find it very gratifying to do," he said.

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