Theron Lange from Cub Scout Pack 144 places flags at Willamette National Cemetery in preparation for Memorial Day in this 2019 photo. (Courtesy Joe Keller)
Theron Lange from Cub Scout Pack 144 places flags at Willamette National Cemetery in preparation for Memorial Day in this 2019 photo. (Courtesy Joe Keller)
Every year, gravesites of veterans across the land are adorned with tiny American flags on Memorial Day. And more often than not, who puts them there? Scouts.

Joe Keller is the leader of Cub Scout Pack 144 based out of Christ the King Parish in Milwaukie. The girls and boys in his pack take part in an event at Willamette National Cemetery, drawing 40 troops and packs from across the metro area. The youths place around 180,000 flags at the military cemetery, reading aloud each headstone as they go.

“It’s an opportunity to help the youth learn about what kind of sacrifices military veterans have made for our country,” said Keller.

Pack 144 is small with only 10-11 kids, including both girls and boys. The members weren’t allowed to place flags last year because of the pandemic, but they will be out there doing it this year.

“It’s a good service project for the community,” Keller said. They can give back to the community and to the family members of those that are buried in the cemetery.”

George Stearns and his troop, Boy Scout Troop 7322, place flags at cemeteries in Albany. The troop, which is sponsored by St. Mary Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Albany, works with the downtown association to place flags on Memorial Day and other holidays.

Understanding and processing a veteran’s sacrifice can be challenging for some youths. Stearns thinks his older Scouts understand better why they place the flags.

“I think that’s just the maturity level,” he said. But Stearns also credits parents with helping their kids understand the project. Some parents bring their kids down to the cemetery and talk about why they’ll be placing the flags.

“We want to be commemorating the service that our soldiers have done, especially those who gave the ultimate sacrifice,” said Stearns.

Trail Life Troop OR 315, the only Portland area Catholic Trail Life group, has placed flags on Memorial Day since the troop’s inception and will do so this year, as well.

“Each year, our Trailmen gather at a local cemetery to honor those who have given their lives in service to our country by planting flags, saluting and reciting the phrase: ‘Thank you for your service,’” said Kevin Doran, troopmaster.

“This gives us leaders the opportunity to teach and remind our boys that the freedoms we enjoy in this country today have come at great sacrifice, but with great love,” he added.

“So we, like those we recognize on Memorial Day, need to be ready to stand and defend our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution and each other. That is what ‘love of God’ and ‘love of country’ is all about.”

sarahw@catholicsentinel.org