I helped place some American flags on the graves of veterans buried at BayView Cemetery in Leonardo last week. Everyone should do that at least once.
It was ten cadets from MAST at Sandy Hook and a handful of members of American Legion Post 141 who walked around the acreage at this 19th century cemetery to pick up flags the Post had placed before Memorial Day of 2016 and replace the now faded flags on close to 400 graves with brilliantly visible red, white and blue flags before this year’s national observance. It was raining heavily when the teens started and some carried umbrellas; they soon put them away when they interfered with the duty they were doing. None seemed to mind the rain one bit, so intent were they on reading about men and women from so many wars who served in so many different branches of the US military. These kids were showing respect for people they didn’t know, but whom they admired and appreciated.
It was startling to see the impact this community effort had on the teens who came from as far away as Freehold to respond to their senior naval officer’s request to volunteer a couple of hours on Saturday morning. Some of the high school cadets have plans to enter the military after graduation or college; some do not. All were touched by the large number of graves in the cemetery that represent both military men and women from every war from the Revolution to Vietnam; all saw their volunteer mission as a means of saying thank you for all the sacrifices made long before their time. Some of the cadets were surprised and dismayed that some of the graves look untended; some look like they haven’t been visited in decades. Yet they were quick to point out the bright side…the cemetery is well cared for, many of the graves showed signs of recent visitors, many had fresh flowers, flags, photos of family members or other mementos that showed there was family or friend who cared and visited. A couple of the cadets from Belford and Middletown saw family names on stones they recognized; all were moved by the tribute to the local Medal of Honor recipient at the entrance to the cemetery.
They photographed the stone for James Morris, who served with the NJ Continental Lines during the Revolution, was captured by the British in 1777 at Navesink Highlands, and was imprisoned on a ship before being transferred to a prison in New York. They recognized some of the veterans were women, including Mary C. Truax who served in the army in World War II, and later was a Red Cross volunteer before her death in 1997, and Mary Deferro who was a yeoman in the Navy in World War I and died in 1983. Jane Frotton, a former Atlantic Highlands councilmember who has placed hundreds of these flags on graves over the years, pointed out the graves of Sam Cassone, as well as her late husband, Bernie Frotton, both former post commanders of the Atlantic Highlands post. Jane and Bernie had done this volunteer flag placement for many years with the American Legion post; Jane has placed her own flag on Bernie’s grave since he died almost five years ago. She did it again this year with a couple of cadets standing nearby.
For myself, a Bayshore resident for half a century, there were many familiar names, both military and non-military, etched on the stones. John Condon, the first of the three generations of funeral home owners who have brought hundreds of deceased to their final resting place, is one of the veterans buried here; John served in the army during World War II and died in 1991; a cadet placed a flag on his grave. Mike Rugg of Highlands is buried there, as are generations of Strykers, Lathams,, DeVesty, Meinerts, and so many more families who loved the Bayshore so much they raised their own families here for generations. All left a singular impact on the Bayshore. A Hartshorne grave recalls the impact and history of the family who has recorded so much fascinating history of the Bayshore and beyond; this family history of 400 years is kept alive and vibrant at the Monmouth County Historical Association Museum in Freehold, and worth a visit on its own.
The honor paid to Fred S. Hay, a recipient of the Medal of Honor during the 19th century Indian Wars is a striking monument that is the first you see when entering the cemetery. SGT Hay was born in Scotland, entered the service out of Upper Wichita, Texas and served with the 5th Infantry. The reason given for why he was awarded the Medal of Honor was simply, “Gallantry in Action.”
Monday’s parade will be a lot more festive than last Saturday’s volunteerism in the rain and mud, the cadets will be marching in their crisply clean uniforms, the Admirals of Henry Hudson’s sensational band will keep everyone in step, and the smiles, cheers and patriotism in Atlantic Highlands among the hundreds who turn out to participate in or simply watch the parade will be the usual wonderful response this community always offers. Take it all in, applaud loud and clear for all our teens at Henry Hudson and at MAST and know we’ve got the very best right here. Take a moment to say a silent prayer of gratitude for all we are remembering on Memorial Day. And if you get the chance, stop over to Bay View Cemetery sometime and take your own private walk among heroes of other ages.