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Michigan Veteran Homes volunteers plant 5,000 flags to honor fallen heroes

Michigan Veteran Homes volunteers plant 5,000 flags to honor fallen heroes

Michigan Veteran Homes, a branch of the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, received assistance from local scout troops and volunteers to plant more than 5,000+ flags at the gravesites of fallen heroes in the cemetery at the Michigan Veteran Homes at Grand Rapids at 3000 Monroe Avenue NE, Grand Rapids.

While family, residents, staff and community members have been placing flags individually over the years, the massive volunteer effort to blanket the cemetery with flags began more than 30-plus years ago. Bob Porter, a former financial management supervisor for the Home who helped formalize the effort in 1991, said it began with a promise of a soda.

“Al Hulsapple and Bill Gerber, who were members of the Home and volunteer scouts, would enlist the help of 10-20 scouts to plant flags in the cemetery,” said Bob Porter, who himself was involved as a scout leader for Boy Scout Troop 230 in Grand Rapids. “It would take the scouts a few hours to blanket the cemetery and Al and Bill would toss them a soda at the end of the day and say come back again next year.”

While the effort began with the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts have become involved in recent years as well.

“The Girl Scouts appreciate the opportunity to join the legacy flag-planting event at Michigan Veteran Homes at Grand Rapids,” said Krystan Krucki, director of marketing and communications for The Girl Scouts of Michigan Shore to Shore. “It really does help inspire girls of all ages to honor veterans, honor our troops and find their own way to recognize the sacrifices that have been made by these individuals for our country.”

Scouts are given instructions on how to properly honor the veterans buried at the cemetery. The process begins with a scout placing a flag to the left of the headstone, followed by reciting the veterans name and rendering a salute. Flags are delivered each year by the United Veterans Council of Kent County with special care taken to replace any flags that are torn or tattered.

“The City of Grand Rapids and its employees have been instrumental in raising funds to supply flags annually to make sure an American flag is placed at every veterans headstone within the city limits for Memorial Day,” said Eric Nelson, a Navy veteran and commander of the United Veterans Council of Kent County. “Each year we replace on average, 3,500 worn or tattered flags at the cemetery at Michigan Veteran Homes at Grand Rapids.”

While this year’s effort lacked elements of years past, the Home hopes to return to celebrating the contributions by the scouts and local community in 2022.

“We’ve had anywhere from 500 We’ve had anywhere from 500-800 scouts join us in the past,” said Tiffany Carr, director of relations for the Michigan Veteran Homes at Grand Rapids. “Even with restrictions and concerns related to COVID-19, all 5000-plus flags were planted by the afternoon on May 20, as planned to honor our fallen veterans.” 

The state veterans cemetery, on the campus of the Michigan Veteran Homes at Grand Rapids, was dedicated on May 31, 1886, 135 years ago this May, and hosts the graves of veterans dating back to the Civil War. Formed in the shape of a Maltese cross, initially the cemetery was plotted for 262 graves with room for 1,048 but has grown to more than 5,000 gravesites today. 

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Ray Winnie
Kent County Credit Union

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