Salute to sacrifice: Gratitude flows from those who took time to place graveside flags

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Representatives from the Downtown Franklin Rotary and the Williamson County chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America didn't let Friday morning’s rain deter them from showing up to help Greg Hoover place flags beside the graves of veterans buried in Franklin’s Mt. Hope Cemetery. 

During the three hours in which the clouds parted and rain ceased, each member of the group discovered something personal while placing the flags.

“That morning will be forever special to me,” said Kathy Reynolds. 

While looking for veterans’ graves, one must read a lot of headstones. Those headstones tell a lot about the men and women resting below.

“There was one veteran who had served in three different wars,” she said. 

Placing flags was also a “making memories” opportunity. 

Reynolds was working alongside her oldest son, John Reynolds, president of the Downtown Franklin Rotary. They both knew that somewhere among all those graves were John’s great-grandparents and their two sons, John “Jack” Reynolds and Edmond “Ed” Reynolds. 

Jack joined the Army soon after he graduated from Battle Ground Academy in 1944. Less than 10 months later, on March 4, 1945, he was killed by a sniper in France. He was 19 years old.

Two months later, and soon after his own graduation from BGA, younger brother Ed enlisted into the Navy. One can only imagine what his parents were going through.

“The morning changed into something meaningful to me as I placed flags next to my grandfather’s and great-uncle’s headstones,” John Reynolds said. “As we placed flags throughout the cemetery, I was able to see how many soldiers were just young men when they lost their lives. If it wasn’t for these men, and others who have served over the years, I probably wouldn’t have the opportunities I do today.”

Bill Robinson, a member of the Williamson County chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America, said, “We came there to honor the veterans who died. In the end, I felt honored to be there.”

For many years, Lt. Col. Greg Hoover, US Army (Ret.) has been making sure every veteran’s grave in Mt. Hope Cemetery has a flag by it for Memorial Day. That’s more than 560 veterans. 

It started as a community service project for the JROTC class that Hoover taught at Franklin High School from 2003 to 2017. The project lasted only a couple of years, but Hoover couldn’t give it up. It was a mission and an act of gratitude to those who served, he said. 

“I think (I do it to show) a sense of appreciation and gratitude for the men and women who served our country,” Hoover said. “Some volunteered, some were drafted, many came home, raised families and contributed to society. Some bore the scars of their service permanently.” 

Hoover also found a personal connection. Seven of the graves are the resting place of Franklin High graduates killed in combat in various wars. 

He may not have known them, but he knows of them from the school’s wall of remembrance, which was another JROTC project he spearheaded. 

“As I look at the headstones, I think of all these young men sacrificed — their whole lives ahead of them — for our freedom,” Hoover said. “That is a price that warrants our gratitude and devotion.”  

And it eases his mind thinking of his father’s grave, in church cemetery in Benton, Kentucky. 

“In my mind, I can see a local veteran in Kentucky placing a flag on my father’s grave,” he said.

Later in the day, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Elks Lodge joined forces to place flags at the grave sites of more than 500 veterans interred at Williamson Memorial Gardens in Franklin.  

Williamson Memorial’s Pam Stephens said it was an honor to have these groups continue a tradition she holds deeply in her heart. 

“We can’t let this virus stop us from honoring the great men and women who fought for our country,” she said, welcoming the group of more than 100 on hand to place the flags. “This has been a really tough time on so many people and it’s great that we can honor our veterans. We will never forget the courage and dedication this generation of war heroes has done for us.”

Franklin resident Brittni Davis brought her young daughter with her to honor her grandfather, an Air Force veteran who died about five years ago. 

“This is a great tradition we started to honor my grandfather as well as other family members who were veterans,” Davis said.

Gary McBee, the Elks Lodge exalted ruler, said the Elks take special pride in this project. 

“Veterans and the American flag are very important to Elks,” he said. “They are at the heart of who we are.”

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