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Volunteers decorate graves at LI national cemetery with flags

Kimberlie Liccardi, of Huntington, reflects while kneeling at

Kimberlie Liccardi, of Huntington, reflects while kneeling at the grave of her cousin Robert Grande Saturday, May 27, 2017, as flags were placed at graves of veterans in Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn. Grande was killed in action in 1967 during the Vietnam War. Credit: Steve Pfost

Row after row, Susan Hayes passed the granite tombstones — awed by the magnitude of the sacrifice.

She honored veterans she never knew the best way she could — planting small American flags on their graves in Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn.

“I’ve been doing this for many years,” said Hayes, 58, of Massapequa, who joined more than 400 volunteers Saturday for the Memorial Day weekend ritual.

She said her father, Richard Hayes, served in the Navy during World War II.

“I feel very grateful for my freedom and didn’t want to let the day go by without showing my respect,” she said. “This is just one gesture that gives me inner peace.”

By midmorning, flags blanketed the cemetery. Some volunteers arrived at dawn, driven by a civic duty to pay their respects.

Roughly 348,000 veterans, along with their spouses and children, are buried at the cemetery.

Every veteran’s tombstone, volunteers said, tells the story of a person who fought to protect America’s freedom.

Cemetery director Roderick Thomas said most people only come for burials or to mark anniversaries. That’s why Saturday stands out.“One of the greatest things I love about this is the community coming out and supporting the cemetery and the veterans,” he said.

James Martinelli, 74, of Lindenhurst, said he volunteered “to honor all the veterans that have passed away serving the country.”

One of the flags he placed held special meaning, however.

It marked the grave of his son, Anthony Martinelli, 32, who died in a military accident while stationed at an Army base in El Paso, Texas, in 2014.

“It’s a privilege and an honor,” James Martinelli said. “I think about him every day, every second.”

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