A group of dedicated volunteers congregated at Sacramento Valley National Cemetery Saturday morning, two days in advance of Memorial Day, to place flags on the graves of our nation's veterans.
The volunteers, about 200 in all, gathered at the cemetery at 9 a.m., everyone from veterans, families, active duty members of our military, and local Boy Scouts.
I decided to join the volunteers and brought my family out to help place the flags on the graves. The day began with the Pledge of Allegiance, led by local Boy Scouts Troops from Fairfield and Vacaville.
The instructions given to us volunteers were simple:
- Respect the cemetery by walking at all times.
- Do not climb on any gravestones, trees or other structures at the cemetery.
- Handle the flags with care
- Place the flags about a foot away from the gravestone, near the center
- Say the name of the veteran where the flag is placed and have a moment of silence.
- If you are wearing a service uniform do an appropriate salute
With the instructions fresh in our minds, we headed to one of many bins sprinkled throughout the cemetery to obtain the flags for the gravestones.
One by one, we placed the flags on each of the graves - stopping at each one to take the time to read the name of the person buried there and have a moment of silence. My oldest, age 7, did a great job of reading each name, mentioning what branch of the military they were in, and if they served in a particular war.
It wasn't long before most of our section's gravestones were decorated with flags. The volunteers spread out in such a manner that each row was efficiently covered.
After about an hour, we noticed that most of the gravestones at each of the sections - there are 13,000 veterans buried at the cemetery according to one of the volunteers - were decorated with the flags.
After we placed the excess flags back in the bins, our family decided to visit the grave of a family member buried at the cemetery. Cpl. Joaquin "Joe" Gimenez served in the U.S. Army during World War II and the Korean War.
Joe was the type of guy who would light up the room with his smile, he was never shy and would always treat you as a friend. We miss his sense of humor and his gentle manner. Joe was a sharp dresser and a family man.
Although we didn't place the flag in front of Joe's gravestone, we made sure that it was dug in deep enough so that no strong wind may disturb it, as we did with all the flags we placed Saturday.
The day was more than just an opportunity for our girls to volunteer in the community for something so meaningful. It was a way for them to learn the true meaning of Memorial Day and to realize the tremendous sacrifice that some people made to preserve our way of life.
God bless our veterans - both living and deceased - and those who are currently serving in our military.
Sacramento Valley National Cemetery's Memorial Day Service will take place on Monday, May 28, at 9 a.m. The cemetery is located at 5810 Midway Road, Dixon.
Volunteers are needed to retrieve the flags from the gravestones and everyone is welcomed to participate. The flag retrievals will begin Tuesday, May 29, at 6 p.m.