Flag duty teaches Memorial Day lesson
Eric Hansen, Wahkiakum High School football coach and teacher at John Thomas Middle School, isn’t exactly sure how long ago it was that local veteran Bob Roche approached him about having students mark the gravestones of local veterans with flags at Greenwood Cemetery for Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
“I don’t know if this is the sixth or seventh year,” Hansen said. “It could be eight.”
Regardless, it’s been a good experience for the first period class on the chosen day. Usually it’s an eighth grade class, but once in a while, seventh graders get to go.
“Danny (Eaton) or Bob will give them the background on what Memorial Day means and explain the significance of the poppies from WWI," Hansen said. "It’s been a good experience. The kids have done a great job, and it gives them a reality check and a connection to why we have the day off each year and why they need to recognize the importance of service. They begin each school year with Veteran’s Day and end each school year with Memorial Day. It’s pretty significant.”
One former student who passed away brings the day even closer to home for Hansen.
“Of course, for me,” he said, “it’s kind of tough seeing former kids I’ve had in class up there. I’ve had kids serve that have come back. They know what it is to break down doors in Baghdad, or blow up IEDs."
One student in Hansen’s class took advantage of the field trip to honor a family member who rests at Greenwood.
“I talked to Danny Eaton,” Aaron West said. “He let me place the flag on my great grandfather, Gene Cleveland’s grave,” said Aaron West, the son of Derek and Christine West and great grandson of Jimmie Lou Cleveland.
“Jimmie Lou was very tickled when I told her I got to set a flag on great grandpa’s grave,” West said.
The whole event gave him pause.
“I’m thankful for this opportunity to be free,” West said. “Honoring those veterans makes you think about everything.”