Cub Scout Andrew Wegener, 6, of North Bellmore Troop 192,...

Cub Scout Andrew Wegener, 6, of North Bellmore Troop 192, plants an American flag at the Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale on Saturday. Credit: Joseph Sperber

An hour past sunrise, uniformed Boy Scouts descended on a cemetery. From containers, each scout scooped up miniature American flags. Row by row, they planted the flags in front of the headstones of many fallen veterans.

The annual event, which honors all veterans and their spouses buried at Long Island National Cemetery in Pinelawn, drew volunteers from Boy and Girl Scout troops and other groups, including AMVETS and the Saint John XXIII Assembly of the Knights of Columbus, on the Saturday before Memorial Day.

“It’s not about barbecues and the unofficial start of summer,” said Joe Fatuzzo, scout master of North Babylon’s Troop 399. “It’s about remembering those who have passed and served our country, in whatever capacity that was.”

Fatuzzo has been participating in the ceremony since his son was a Cub Scout about 25 years ago. While he and others planted flags in Farmingdale, volunteers did the same at Calverton National Cemetery starting at 9:30 a.m. Nearly 5,000 people from 108 Boy and Cub Scout troops, 35 Girl Scout units and 120 other organizations, including school groups and families, were expected at Calverton — the larger of the two cemeteries — according to Frank Bailey of the Calverton Flag Placement Committee.

“It’s not about veterans, it’s about those who have died” serving their country, Fatuzzo said. “We try to teach the scouts that.”

Among the scouts Saturday morning was Quinn Flanagan, 13, of North Babylon. 

“People fought for our country and sometimes, people don't really see that,” he said.

At Long Island National, administrator Michael Fehn, who served as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps, said seeing some 270,000 flags covering cemetery grounds left him almost speechless.

“For us, this is like taking care of family,” said Fehn, who completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as other deployments from 1995 to 2014.

Brendan Callaghan, 4, planted flags Saturday in Farmingdale for his third year in a row, alongside his parents, Allison and Matt.

“Today, it's just a hard reflection day,” said Matt Callaghan, 37, who served in Iraq in the mid-2000s. “There's a lot of feelings associated with it, but, I just like to make sure that nobody gets forgotten.”

At Long Island National, he said, he could see the fallen in tight rows of tombstones. 
“It's like the last formation you'll ever be in,” said Callaghan, of Massapequa.

A self-proclaimed “army brat” born when her father was a service member, Debbie Stondell has been planting flags for about 10 years. This year, she would participate in flag placement at Calverton National Cemetery as the president of the AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary 1174 and a representative of the L.I. American Bikers for Awareness, Training & Education.

“It is the only time during the year that every single departed gets a decoration on their grave,” said Stondell, whose husband is an Army veteran. “Even when we do Wreaths Across America, there aren’t enough wreaths for everybody, so they alternate sections in the cemetery.”

Before she places each flag, Stondell speaks the name of each deceased and thanks them for their service. “That is paying our respects,” Stondell said. “It could be one of the only times during the entire year that their name is ever spoken.”

Volunteers plant flags each year no matter the weather, she said. 

“It is one of the most somber and beautiful sights to see,” Stondell said of the field of flags amid the headstones. Before she leaves, she visits the graves of her relatives buried in the Calverton cemetery.

By about 8 a.m., Fatuzzo and his scouts are set to leave Long Island National Cemetery.

“There’s so many groups that do this, that pretty much the whole place is filled with flags by about that time,” he said.

If Flanagan could send one message to those interested in volunteering, it would be that flag retrieval is important too. 

“I think people should know that if they're going to come put the flags up, they should probably take them down too,” said Flanagan, whose father is a groundskeeper at the cemetery.

Volunteers will have the opportunity to assist with flag removal at Long Island National Cemetery on June 1.

An hour past sunrise, uniformed Boy Scouts descended on a cemetery. From containers, each scout scooped up miniature American flags. Row by row, they planted the flags in front of the headstones of many fallen veterans.

The annual event, which honors all veterans and their spouses buried at Long Island National Cemetery in Pinelawn, drew volunteers from Boy and Girl Scout troops and other groups, including AMVETS and the Saint John XXIII Assembly of the Knights of Columbus, on the Saturday before Memorial Day.

“It’s not about barbecues and the unofficial start of summer,” said Joe Fatuzzo, scout master of North Babylon’s Troop 399. “It’s about remembering those who have passed and served our country, in whatever capacity that was.”

Fatuzzo has been participating in the ceremony since his son was a Cub Scout about 25 years ago. While he and others planted flags in Farmingdale, volunteers did the same at Calverton National Cemetery starting at 9:30 a.m. Nearly 5,000 people from 108 Boy and Cub Scout troops, 35 Girl Scout units and 120 other organizations, including school groups and families, were expected at Calverton — the larger of the two cemeteries — according to Frank Bailey of the Calverton Flag Placement Committee.

“It’s not about veterans, it’s about those who have died” serving their country, Fatuzzo said. “We try to teach the scouts that.”

Among the scouts Saturday morning was Quinn Flanagan, 13, of North Babylon. 

“People fought for our country and sometimes, people don't really see that,” he said.

At Long Island National, administrator Michael Fehn, who served as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps, said seeing some 270,000 flags covering cemetery grounds left him almost speechless.

“For us, this is like taking care of family,” said Fehn, who completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as other deployments from 1995 to 2014.

'Last formation'

Brendan Callaghan, 4, planted flags Saturday in Farmingdale for his third year in a row, alongside his parents, Allison and Matt.

“Today, it's just a hard reflection day,” said Matt Callaghan, 37, who served in Iraq in the mid-2000s. “There's a lot of feelings associated with it, but, I just like to make sure that nobody gets forgotten.”

Brendan Callaghan, 4, of Massapequa, was among those who planted...

Brendan Callaghan, 4, of Massapequa, was among those who planted American flags at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale on Saturday. Credit: Joseph Sperber

At Long Island National, he said, he could see the fallen in tight rows of tombstones. 
“It's like the last formation you'll ever be in,” said Callaghan, of Massapequa.

A self-proclaimed “army brat” born when her father was a service member, Debbie Stondell has been planting flags for about 10 years. This year, she would participate in flag placement at Calverton National Cemetery as the president of the AMVETS Ladies Auxiliary 1174 and a representative of the L.I. American Bikers for Awareness, Training & Education.

“It is the only time during the year that every single departed gets a decoration on their grave,” said Stondell, whose husband is an Army veteran. “Even when we do Wreaths Across America, there aren’t enough wreaths for everybody, so they alternate sections in the cemetery.”

Before she places each flag, Stondell speaks the name of each deceased and thanks them for their service. “That is paying our respects,” Stondell said. “It could be one of the only times during the entire year that their name is ever spoken.”

Weather not a factor

Volunteers plant flags each year no matter the weather, she said. 

“It is one of the most somber and beautiful sights to see,” Stondell said of the field of flags amid the headstones. Before she leaves, she visits the graves of her relatives buried in the Calverton cemetery.

By about 8 a.m., Fatuzzo and his scouts are set to leave Long Island National Cemetery.

“There’s so many groups that do this, that pretty much the whole place is filled with flags by about that time,” he said.

If Flanagan could send one message to those interested in volunteering, it would be that flag retrieval is important too. 

“I think people should know that if they're going to come put the flags up, they should probably take them down too,” said Flanagan, whose father is a groundskeeper at the cemetery.

Volunteers will have the opportunity to assist with flag removal at Long Island National Cemetery on June 1.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Paying the Price: Long Island's stormy future Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland.

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