Aisle of Honor is a Memorial Weekend Tradition at Vaughn Bay Cemetery

Volunteers are needed to display 350 flags honoring military veterans who gave some or all for their country.


The breeze was unusually calm for an early April day atop Vaughn Bay.

Christine Copeland and Barb Waddell were clearing the cement flagpole markers of a year’s worth of cut grass and fallen leaves. The two longtime members of the Key Peninsula Veterans group were prepping the scenic and serene Vaughn Bay Cemetery for what they called the most highly decorated cemetery west of the Mississippi River over Memorial Day weekend.

That’s when 348 casket flags attached to 18-foot poles, each bearing the name of at least one American Hero, are ceremoniously distributed throughout the lanes of the cemetery. In all, more than 500 service members are remembered during the Aisle of Honor, an annual KP tradition held on the Sunday before Memorial Day. Now in its 31st year, this year the event falls on May 26.

“If you can stand here when the wind is blowing and all these flags are flying and you don’t feel a surge in your heart for your country, you’re either dead or you have a problem,” said Waddell, who comes from a family with a history of military service and has been helping with the Aisle of Honor since 2005.

The tradition is a joint effort by the KP Veterans and the Vaughn Bay Cemetery Association that started in 1993. The program starts at 1 p.m. and includes a salute by the U.S. Army and the playing of Taps. Special guests will read the names of all those being honored. “Though it’s not official and I can’t promise anything, every year we have a bald eagle fly over the ceremony,” Waddell said while pointing out an eagle perched high above in a nearby fir tree.

The Peninsula School District, recently named a Purple Star Award recipient by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Washington Association of School Administrators for its “commitment to military-connected families and students,” will have musicians from Vaughn Elementary School and Navy ROTC members from Peninsula High School performing at the event.

“It’s unique because it can be either a very personal, community or national event, or it can be all three,” said Joe Dervaes, president of the Vaughn Bay Cemetery Association.

“This community is extremely patriotic and there’s a long history of that.”

In addition to the 5-foot by 8-foot casket flags rippling in the breeze high above the ground, the graves of the 250 veterans buried at the cemetery will be decorated with smaller flags for the weekend. The cemetery board members put them out on the Friday before Memorial Day and take them down on the evening of the holiday. Gideon Miter Davidson, one of the original KP homesteaders, in 1899 became the first military veteran buried at Vaughn Bay Cemetery. Davidson served in the Iowa militia in the 1850s.

Dervaes, who also is the treasurer of the Key Peninsula Historical Society and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, is one of the founding members of Aisle of Honor and gave the opening remarks at the inaugural event 31 years ago. In his speech, he called the event “both a day to remember and a day of remembrance.” He said it started with only 60 flags.

Now with almost six times as many it takes an army of community volunteers to put on a dramatic display of this magnitude. Dervaes, Copeland, and Waddell are asking for help.“Most of the people who care about these types of events are older folks, and people like me aren’t getting any younger,” said Dervaes, who turns 83 this summer.

The local Boy Scout and Cub Scout troops helped in the past, but participation has dwindled in recent years. Volunteers are needed to help place the flag poles in their cement fixtures starting at 6 a.m. Sunday morning, and helping remove them at 5 p.m.

All flags will need to be properly folded. “If you don’t know how to fold a flag, we will teach you,” Waddell said.

Copeland, a retired Army veteran, said helping with an event like this builds character and connects the younger and older generations.

“This is one of those unique KP events that needs to continue and some of the younger people need to take that on,” said Marcia Harris, a KP resident and former board president of the Peninsula School District who started attending the event in 2012 in memory of her father, who was a World War II vet. “It’s a remarkable experience. Every time I go it makes me proud to live here and proud to be an American.”

Lance McMillan used to volunteer at the event when his son was in Boy Scouts. “In small-town America, these types of events become an integral part of community involvement,” he said, adding that he wants the event to remain focused on “remembering the sacrifice.”

Those willing to volunteer can reach KP Veterans President Ray Flowers at 541-514- 9371 or Copeland at 253-632-4757.

For now, Copeland, Waddell, and the rest of the KP Veterans will do what they can for as long as they can to make sure the flags continue to fly each year. The group supports the Aisle of Honor with the money it makes during their annual Fourth of July fireworks booth at Lake Kathryn Village and through flag pin sales.

“I’m very proud of my flag,” Waddell said. “I’m not always proud of my government, but I’m always proud of my flag.”