Among the uniform lines of marble headstones that stretch across the 365 acres of Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn, a horde of kids in colorful parkas and veterans in VFW caps planted flags in front of each headstone, 245,000 in total Saturday.
Their work started at 7 a.m., in the rain, when the congregation of cars waiting to get into the cemetery on Wellwood Avenue crept several blocks south to Edison Avenue.
By about 8:20, the flag bearers' duty was done.
Every year at Pinelawn, the Long Island National Cemetery Memorial Organization orders about 5,000 patches for the Girl and Boy scouts who pitch in -- patches their parents later iron onto their uniforms, said cemetery director Roseanne Santore.
The cemetery spends $5,000 to $8,000 each year on the flag-planting event and replaces any cloth flags that were ripped or stained the year before, Santore said.
On June 1, the scouts and veterans will come back at 8 a.m. to remove the flags, which will be dried, rolled up, and stored in bins until next time.
Roughly 4,000 Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and a few thousand volunteers from assorted Long Island VFW posts and veteran service organizations planted the flags a section at a time, each memorializing the moment in their own way.
"We ask them to look at the headstone, see what it says, and meditate for a minute," Santore said. "We're teaching the young people of today not to forget the veteran."
After most of the flags had been planted, 8-year-old Vincent Mingils of Lindenhurst proudly demonstrated the way his troop performed the deed: He approached a grave, stuck the flag in the dirt in front of the headstone, and stepped back.
Puffing up his chest a little and keeping his gaze focused on the headstone, he sharply saluted.
"It's to remember their service," he said.