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Scouts, vets memorialize fallen at LI National Cemetery

Boy Scouts from Troop No. 656 of Wantagh

Boy Scouts from Troop No. 656 of Wantagh pass out flags as volunteer groups place American flags on each grave throughout the Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn. (May 25, 2013) Credit: Steve Pfost

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.

The flags are a Memorial Day weekend tradition at national cemeteries, including at Calverton.

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.

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