For the past 30 years, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6208 and auxiliary members, Rich and Darlene Davidson, have adorned Prior Lake cemeteries in red, white and blue every Memorial Day by placing American flags on veterans' graves.
Rich said he and his wife, Darlene, learned from long time VFW and auxiliary members Tony and Mildred Conroy, who passed away in 2005 and 2006 respectively. The Conroys had been placing flags on veterans' graves for 50 years.
Auxiliary member Frieda Barlage, who also helped install flags and markers for fallen veterans for over 50 years, recently died Friday, May 21. She had planned to continue helping this year before her passing.
"We (Rich and Darlene) became the chairmen that headed it off after Tony and Mildred passed away in 2005," said Rich, who is a Vietnam veteran that served in the U.S. Navy.
A labor of love
The Davidsons, with the help of Angela Davidson Henchen, Chuck Dresen, Tom Moore and Tim Harper, will place flags and markers this year at several local cemeteries beginning on Friday, May 28 at St. Michael Cemetery and St. Paul's Lutheran Cemetery. The crew will spend 146 hours placing the flags and markers on graves, removing and repairing them and putting them back in storage ready for next year.
Other cemeteries where they will install flags and markers include Spring Lake Cemetery, Fish Lake Cemetery, Concord Hill Cemetery, St. Catherine's Cemetery, Credit River Cemetery and Prior Lake Cemetery.
"Darlene tracks the names. They have to be linked to Prior Lake somehow — either they lived in Prior Lake, were born in Prior Lake, or are buried in Prior Lake cemeteries," said Rich. "We do the seven cemeteries in Scott County, then Darlene also tracks people that were born here or was a member of the VFW or the American Legion."
Darlene said she keeps a database of 1,351 veterans and auxiliary members who have died. The 1,351 names will be read Memorial Day at the remembrance ceremony at Memorial Park in Prior Lake after the parade hosted by the city and VFW Post 6208.
"I always naturally read the obituaries in the Prior Lake American and I always check the websites of a lot of the funeral homes," said Darlene. "The VFW Color Guard does services for veterans in the area. They give them a military funeral honors and that's how we get most of our names as well."
Rich said it's important to honor the men and women who gave up their life for their country.
"They're the true heroes. They took a bullet for our country. A lot of them never came back home — a lot did and they kept serving their community through the VFW or through the different veteran organizations," he said. "Basically, Memorial Day is to honor the fallen veterans, so let's not forget them."