EXETER, R.I. (WPRI) — The flags that send waves of red, white and blue across Veterans Memorial Cemetery on Memorial Day wouldn’t be there without an army of volunteers.
Exeter Boy Scout Pack 45 leader Todd Bryant said it’s an opportunity to expose kids to an important message, even if they can’t name any of the wars yet.
“I think it’s important to show the younger generation exactly what the old generations did for us,” Bryant said.
Ariela McCaffrey and her 13-year-old son were among the 500 volunteers who put some 29,000 flags in place.
As the field of flags grew, she recalled her father’s service in the Merchant Marines.
“He talked a lot about the experience,” McCaffrey said. “And he did come close to losing his life. They didn’t have weapons on the Merchant Marine ships, but they did get shot at.”
Nearby, Robin Woodmansee worked with a troop of Girl Scouts, helping them by poking holes in the dry turf, so they could place flags near the headstones.
“It really makes you realize how many people in Rhode Island have fought for our country to make it what it is today,” Woodmansee said.
The mystery penny on Holly Charette’s headstone was put there by Francisco Silva Junior.
Charette was 21 years old when an explosion killed her, making her the first female Rhode Islander to be killed in Iraq.
“It’s something I’ve been doing for quite some time now,” Silva said. “I think since she’s been [laid to rest] there.”
“When I first came home from Nam, no one had any respect for any of us,” Silva recalled. “Right now, you look out. Words can’t describe.”
With that, Silva choked up a little.
“It’s amazing. And they’re being put up by young people,” Silva said. “People who don’t know about war. Hopefully, they’ll never know it.”
A young girl with Woodmansee raised a flag over Charette’s grave, prompting a “thank you” kiss from Silva.
Bryant emphasized understanding what veterans like Silva went through is vital for the volunteers.
“To let them know it wasn’t always this easy,” Bryant said. “They should know it wasn’t always as easy as it is now.”
“There is so much we owe to them,” McCaffrey said. “A little bit of time on a Saturday morning is worth every second.”
It’s time all volunteers can agree is well spent.