With map in one hand and flags in another, David and Kayla Pierce slowly walked a section of the Churchill County Cemetery looking for veterans’ headstones.
David Pierce stopped, looked down at the name, and then placed a flag next to a World War II veteran. Before moving on to the next name,he stood quietly and then looked at the map for the next gravesite.
“This is something we have always done,” said Pierce, whose wife has been at Naval Air Station Fallon for six months.
The Pierces, along with almost 200 volunteers, spent an hour Sunday morning canvassing the cemetery looking for about 2,000 veterans, some who had died in previous conflicts but the majority who passed away because of natural causes.
“This means a lot to me,” said Kayla Pierce. “My papa served on the Marines in Vietnam. My great uncle who has passed was in the Navy.”
Both David and Kayla Pierce said honoring and remembering veterans before Memorial Day is as important as saying the Pledge of Allegiance. They said previous generations of veterans ensured the freedoms for the newest generation of “brothers and sisters” in the military.
Mike Terry, a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and a retired Navy master chief, has helped organize the planting of the flags for more than 20 years. He said sailors from naval air stations at Oceania (Virginia), Lemoore (California), Whidbey Island (Washington) and Fallon’s Aviation Ordnance Association answered Friday’s call for volunteers.
In addition to members from the VFW helping to plant flags, Terry said volunteers also came from the Fleet Reserve Association, American Legion, National Guard Association of the United States, the Masonic Lodge and Boys Scouts.
“I have two contacts at the base,” Terry explained. “I did a memo to the command master chief who spread it out to the CPO (chief petty officer) community. Then it (the request) goes up and down from there.”
Terry said he was ecstatic when he saw the huge number of volunteers showing up Sunday morning to plant the flags, which is an event that leads up to the actual Memorial Day ceremony.
“I was proud to see the young sailors out here. It’s important to do this in remembrance,” Terry said of the flags. “Not all passed from war, but they are not forgotten.”
AE1 Matthew Trexler, who on temporary duty at the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center, said volunteering to place flags helps future generations understand the scarifies.
“It’s important to understand your heritage, where you came from and what the people who gave before us,” Trexler said.
Furthermore, Trexler said current and future generations cannot forget the service and sacrifice those before them achieved.
AE2 Robert Hamden, who is also on temporary duty to NAWDC from Naval Air Station Oceania, Va., stood at the base of a headstone reading the inscription before placing a flag.
“It’s interesting to see their names and service,” he said. “You don’t know if they are from here or retired here.”
Hamden said he was surprised to see the number of names associated with both World War I and WWII.
“It’s amazing how many people are here in this small cemetery,” he said, adding that many of the deceased veterans survived the war and lived productive lives.
“It wasn’t common from that era to be able to go to war and get back safely,” Hamden said.
This is the first time Chief AOC John Pampaloni placed flags at the graves. Although he arrived in Fallon in July and became involved with veteran-related events, Pampaloni said he felt very humbled in placing the flags.
“They paved the way for where we are at,” he said of the veterans. “The sacrifices they made for our country means a lot.”
What makes Pampaloni proud, though, is the current generation of sailors and soldiers are recognizing their brothers and sisters from previous military service whether during war or peacetime.
AOAN Jess Coughtry of St. Louis, Mo., and A01 Jaures Cobbin of Charleston, S.C., who are both stationed at NAS Fallon, worked in tandem finding gravesites at which to place flags.
“This takes only an hour out of a busy schedule to do something for the vets who served before us,” Coughtry said. “This has been a real different experience seeing the men who served during World War I and II. Each has his own story and time.”
Cobbin said he feels honored that the service of the veterans from prior generations enabled the South Carolina native to join the military.
“It was good to see the civilians coming out here and helping,” said the five-year Navy veterans.
One civilian group assisting on Sunday morning was Troop 1776 of the Boy Scouts of America. Ten scouts along with their adult leaders spent the majority of their time planting flags in the cemetery’s older veterans section.
Eagle Scout Benjamin Andersen said he has a great deal of respect for veterans.
“There are those who gave their lives or survived,” Andersen said, who called the community service humbling.
Justin Cathey, a senior patrol leader, volunteered to help his troop.
“I feel honored when asked to do this. It is great for our local Boy Scout troop to pay respect to the veterans,” Cathey said. “I didn’t realize how many veterans are here.”
On Memorial Day after the service, Roland Grondin stood by his father’s headstone. Charles Grondin was a Navy veteran who served during the last two years of WWII in the Pacific Theater.
Roland Grondin said the flags at each veteran’s grave is special.
“It’s truly a nice touch. Many of them may not have had anyone to remember them,” he said.