On Memorial Day, fallen soldiers and war veterans who rest at St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands will be honored with American flags placed on their graves. However, the tradition could become a thing of the past without more volunteers offering to help.

Members of the American Legion’s North Albany Post #1610 and students from Albany High School’s U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) program will be distributing the flags, an annual American Legion tradition.

“We feel so privileged to have that type of involvement on our grounds,” said Kelly Grimaldi, historian for Albany Diocesan Cemeteries.

A few years ago, students in the JROTC program at Albany High began helping the American Legion’s North Albany Post distribute flags at St. Agnes Cemetery. There is a great need for volunteers, since the post’s membership has been steadily declining as older veterans pass away.

Retired Army Maj. David Erickson is the senior Army instructor for Albany High’s JROTC program, which is sponsored by the North Albany Post. Maj. Erickson has helped recruit students from the JROTC to help out the veterans’ group.

“We have about 20 to 25 kids go and decorate” cemeteries, he told The Evangelist.

Aside from showing respect for the fallen on Memorial Day, he said, it’s an opportunity for the students to “walk with the veterans, learn about the veterans. You learn a lot from the past. It’s like having your grandfather show up.”

Ms. Grimaldi said that all the students who came to St. Agnes Cemetery last year to distribute flags were “so respectful,” and that “it’s wonderful for young people to step up” and help with this effort.

This year, St. Agnes is one of only two cemeteries in Albany County that will be decorated with individual flags. Historically, local veterans’ groups have visited all of the cemeteries in Albany County for Memorial Day, but there aren’t enough volunteers to do so anymore.

Maj. Erickson noted that more members of the North Albany Post and other veterans’ groups are getting too old to volunteer or have passed away — which has led to an increase in the number of flags to be placed, even as the number of volunteers is simultaneously declining.

The North Albany Post’s budget can’t cover the increasing need for flags, he added.

Maj. Erickson said it took about four hours last year for the JROTC students and North Albany Post volunteers to put hundreds of flags on graves at St. Agnes Cemetery.

Doing so, he said, shows students that their freedom was earned by those who served in the military and “gave their lives for you.”
“When you see 114 acres dotted with American flags, it’s beautiful,” said Ms. Grimaldi.

Seeing so many graves marked with flags can have a “sobering effect” on the students, who may realize that a grave where they’re placing a flag is that of a soldier their age or not much older who died while serving, she added.

Maj. Erickson said it’s important to mark Memorial Day. “If we forget all of this, we’re condemned to repeat” our mistakes as a country, he said.

Even if it becomes no longer possible to place flags on veterans’ graves, Ms. Grimaldi said that St. Agnes Cemetery will continue to honor veterans on Memorial Day in some way.

(For information on distributing flags, contact Maj. Erickson at 518-573-5492.)