ELLSWORTH — A small number of cars traversed the narrow pathways of the Woodbine Cemetery on a cool morning at 8 a.m. on Saturday, May 21. It was one of those mornings where it feels like the whole world is gray. A stillness lay over the grounds, punctured now and again by the call of a bird or the buzz of a black fly.
The group gathered around a pickup driven by Ellsworth VFW Post 109 Commander Dan Sullivan. From the bed of his truck Sullivan dispersed bundles of American flags, about 1,100 for Woodbine alone, with another 500-600 set aside for other cemeteries in the area. The flags are intended to replace their counterparts that stood for a year by the graves of veterans of conflicts ranging all the way back to the Civil War.
Once they received their flags, individuals and groups dispersed throughout the cemetery to begin the solemn task. Members of Cub Scout Pack 86, who have come out to Woodbine to help for several years now, received their marching orders from Pack Leader Kathy Hawes.
“When we stop at each grave to replace the flag, make sure you read the inscription,” Hawes instructed, “and make sure you salute each time before moving on to the next flag.”
Crew members made short work of their section of the cemetery, with Hawes and the other parents present working to impress upon them the significance of the undertaking.
“These are people who fought for our country and our freedom. The kids love to do this, to come out and show their respect,” Hawes explained.
In another section of the cemetery, VFW member Colin Smith walked the paths between the gravestones as he’s done every year for over 50 years. For a good portion of that half-century Smith swapped out the flags at every cemetery in Ellsworth alone, or with the help of his wife, after inheriting the task from a man named Randy Sinclair.
“One year, my wife and I took it on all alone and it took us three days,” Smith remembered. “So, I’m happy now to have the help of the VFW. And it’s wonderful to see these Cub Scouts here helping out as well.”
VFW Post 109 began helping Smith with the project about 15 years ago. Commander Sullivan now handles the ordering and distribution of the flags, but Smith is still heavily involved in the process.
“I’m proud to say I’ve been doing this for more than 50 years. But who even keeps track of time anymore anyways?”
Flags for Woodbine begins a period of remembrance culminating in the Ellsworth Memorial Day parade, which begins at 10 a.m. on May 30.