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Family continues tradition of placing Memorial Day flags

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A disappointing visit to a small cemetery 12 years ago has turned into a family tradition one Nash County family that continues to grow each year.

Janice Mills of the Gold Valley community near Spring Hope visited one of her uncles’ graves on Memorial Day weekend in 2007 and was disappointed to see that unlike some community cemeteries, that one had no American flags on veterans’ gravesites.

“I just thought it was a shame that nobody had acknowledged these veterans on Memorial Day,” said Mills. “It was too late to do anything that year, but the next year I was determined to put flags out.” In 2008, a family tradition of putting out flags each Memorial Day was born.

“It didn’t start out a family tradition — that came later,” said Mills. “I started out with the five or six boys that were in my Cub Scout pack back then. The first year we went to five small rural cemeteries and put out around 75 flags.”

Mills purchased the original 75 flags with her own money and has added to those over the years, but some groups have also given her flags as well.

“Gibson Memorial had a lot of flags from the American Legion that they gave us to put out starting last year, and the Griffin family loaned us some last year as well,” she said.

The group of five cemeteries and 75 flags has now grown to 14 cemeteries and nearly 400 flags, a task that sees Mills and two of her granddaughters, Ryleigh Reynolds and Meagan Cone, spend between five and six hours placing the flags. They also come back through over the following days to make sure the flags are still standing.

“I finally aged out of Cub Scouts about five years ago, and two of my granddaughters starting helping me,” Mills said. “ At the time, Meagan was 11 and Ryleigh was 9 and they have been right here with me ever since.”

“For me, it’s a good way to honor fallen soldiers who gave everything for our freedom,” said Reynolds, whose father is both an Air Force and Army veteran. “This helps to keep their memory alive.”

“It’s a tradition for us and we enjoy putting the flags out each year,” said Cone, whose father is a Navy veteran. “It’s exhausting and hot work, but it reminds you what these veterans went through was even more exhausting, and sometimes was even their last act of life, and that makes every minute worth it.”

Mills said for her, it’s about honoring those who were willing to sacrifice anything to give the rest of us everything.

“I come from a long line of military heritage dating back to the Revolutionary War and every war since then,” said Mills. “I lost friends in Vietnam who are in these cemeteries, I have had uncles and cousins, and even my son and my son-in-law who served in our armed forces. This is just my way of saying thank you, and of teaching my granddaughters to say thank you.

Officially flags for Memorial Day recognition are placed on veterans’ graves the Thursday prior to Memorial Day and are left in place until Flag Day on June 6 when they are stored until the next year.

Mills and her granddaughters currently place flags on graves at Healthy Plains Baptist Church, two cemeteries in the Samaria community, three private cemeteries on Frazier Road, two private cemeteries on N.C. 97, Floods Chapel Baptist Church, the private cemetery near Southern Nash Middle School, New Vester Missionary Baptist Church, Oakdale Cemetery, Hunt-Murray Cemetery, and this year, they added Meeks Cemetery, which also had flags placed by American Legion Nebraska-Dunston Post 396 in Spring Hope.

Editor’s Note: Janice Mills is the writer’s mother. She is employed at The Enterprise as its customer service representative.