STARKVILLE — Barry Montgomery started placing American flags at Memorial Gardens cemetery in 2005, the day of his father’s funeral. But when he saw the graves beside his father’s, he knew it wasn’t fair to leave theirs unhonored.
“He passed away on July 3, and after the service, I went by the Dollar Store and bought a flag, and they came in packages of three,” Montgomery said. “I put it on there, and my brother said, ‘Dr. Strange and Ms. Haley Barry (two others buried in the cemetery) were both vets. Put it on there.’ But that’s not fair.”
Montgomery, who followed in his father’s footsteps as a Marine from 1961 to 1986, was moved to buy 30 more flags that day. But as the years went by, he knew he needed more flags and more help to mark the graves of all of the veterans buried in the cemetery.
On Friday morning, Montgomery, along with about 20 volunteers from The Veterans of Foreign Wars, The Daughters of the American Revolution and Starkville Academy students placed what he estimated to be about 400 flags throughout the cemetery in honor of Memorial Day.
“It makes me believe in America more,” Montgomery said. “It’s so warming to see the outpouring they have for the veterans and the amount of people that come. And you heard the kids saying they don’t know much about what we do in the military. … People really don’t quite understand.”
Montgomery said his group identifies veterans by reading each headstone, as well as looking for medallions and other symbols on them. If volunteers find a headstone where the veteran and their spouse have both passed away, they place the flag between the two headstones to also honor the military spouse’s sacrifice.
Montgomery said the group places flags at Memorial Gardens three times a year, for Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Veterans Day.
But Montgomery is not the only one who commemorates veterans with flags in the city.
Michael Hunter, Post 13 American Legion Commander for Starkville, along with a few other veterans and volunteers from Boy Scout troops in the city, covered the Odd Fellows Cemetery on Fellowship Street with flags at the same time on Friday.
“Every memorial holiday and veterans holiday, we come out and place flags on the graves of veterans,” Hunter said. “But on Memorial Day, it’s particularly important, as Memorial Day is for recognition of those veterans who have lost their lives in service to their country. And while not all the veterans who are out here lost their lives that way, we still want to honor those who have gone before us.”
Hunter said he has been helping to place flags at Odd Fellows for the past five years. He pointed out some of the tombstones throughout the cemetery that represented service from the Civil War, World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War.
Hunter said he has started to recognize some of the tombstones over the years, as he marks the same places over and over again.
“It gives you another opportunity to stop and think,” Hunter said. “Freedom’s not free.”
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