It’s a Memorial Day tradition unlike any other In Johnston.
It features more than 1,500 American flags and serves as a lesson for young children and reminder for older folks of just how important it is to remember each and every veteran who helped preserve the nation’s freedom.
But this time around, rain blanketed Highland Memorial Park Cemetery and men like Dave Slinko were worried few people, if any, would turn out for the always special ceremony that had to be scaled down because of the inclement weather.
“The more it rained the more I figured we wouldn’t have many people,” said Slinko, who in recent years has organized the Memorial Day ceremony for Johnston’s Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts and serves as Den Leader for Troop 20. “We were all thrilled with the large turnout of families and kids that showed up and helped make Saturday morning extra special.”
Members of Troop 20 – Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts and their leaders – wore their traditional uniforms while their parents were decked out in a variety of colorful foul weather garb and protected their respective super scouts with, as several might moms noted: “extra wide umbrellas.”
But perhaps Joseph Swift, President of Highland Memorial Park Cemetery, as well as Johnston’s ageless Lions Club, perfectly described the annual Rite of May, which was held last Saturday morning.
“If we all had the same compassion and pride as these young people, what a wonderful country we could have,” Swift began, while shielding the morning rain and cold. “Think about this please; on a rainy, windy and cold day the Johnston Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts placed 1,584 flags on the graves of veterans here at Highland Memorial Park Cemetery. I am sure those veterans are now saying: ‘Scouts – THANK YOU for you service.’”
Slinko and Marc DaPonte, who serves as Cub Master for Troop 20, echoed similar statements, as did Boy Scout Master Robert Simmons and Cub Scout Chairman Sue Deaths.
“We’re all proud of our scouts,” said DaPonte, who shared the brief speaking program with Slinko, held at the flag-flying entry circle at the spacious cemetery and featured two groups of scouts reciting their oaths, scout’s law and the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag.
The moving ceremony, as Slinko said later, “was highlighted by the playing of TAPS by Tucker Condon of Boy Scout Troop 20.”
After which, with the rain refusing to let up, small groups of scouts and their proud parents made their way around the cemetery and placed small American flags at the gravesites of all veterans – and in some cases their late wives – whose final resting place is Highland Memorial Park.
But placing the American flags at graves like that of U.S. Marine Ernest Mongony and his wife Myra is just half of what the Troop 20 Cub and Boy Scouts have on their schedules.
“We’ll be right back there later this week,” said Slinko. “We’ll bring rakes, shovels … other equipment and we’re going to begin cleaning up the graves of veterans.”