Permanent veterans’ memorial erected in Vaughn

Rodika Tollefson, KP News
'Aisle of Honor' The dedication ceremony and memorial service on May 29 begins at 11:45 a.m. at the Vaughn Cemetery. The permanent veterans’ memorial will include one service flag each for the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marines. The 11th annual memorial service honoring those whose flags fly in the Aisle of Honor will follow.
Every May for about a decade, Memorial Day on the Key Peninsula has brought an inspiring view: dozens of American flags flying at the Vaughn Cemetery. It is one of those rare occasions when organizers of an event would wish for wind: The higher the wind, the more awesome the view. The flags themselves are even more special than the awe they inspire, as they fly under the blue sky 200-plus at a time. The flags, collected by the local veterans’ groups, are casket flags of military veterans who have passed away from across the country and even across the world. “All the flag poles are spaced out so flags can fly fully without hitting each other. It’s a marvelous sight, a beauty to behold,” said Joe Dervaes, president of the Vaughn Cemetery Association, which has been working with the local VFW post and now the Key Peninsula Veterans Institute to make the day special. It is even more special this year: A permanent memorial will be dedicated at the cemetery, where seven flags, one for each of the six service branches and one for POW/MIA, will be erected. The May 29 dedication will include music by the Bremerton Navy Band, a blessing of the site by Suquamish Tribe Elder Jim Pratt, and special speakers. The annual memorial service will follow. This year, 211 casket flags will be flown in the “Aisle of Honor.” They include flags from Medal of Honor recipients, from Belgium, Canada, Great Britain, several wars, and all branches of U.S. service. “When we first started this, we contacted cemeteries to find soldiers. Now, it’s word of mouth,” said KPVI’s Cy Young. “This is dedicated to all the veterans, no matter where they’ve been.” Any family member can give the flag to KPVI, regardless of how long the person who died served, what branch, or whether he or she was in a war. Each pole has a plaque with the soldier’s name, and a board near with all the names listed, matched with pole numbers for easy locating, is provided for the day. They are numbered in the order in which they were donated. “They go to great lengths to preserve the flags on behalf of the families,” Dervaes said. The nonprofit cemetery board raised more than $1,000 to build the rock wall where the flags will be raised. The KPVI was hoping to have a special veteran present at the dedication: Washington’s first gentleman, Mike Gregoire. The group had invited Gov. Christine Gregoire to attend, but upon learning of a previous commitment, she asked if they would instead accept her husband, to which they said, according to one member, something like: “Gracious, yes!” Mike Gregoire served in the military and has been involved in veterans’ affairs issues. At press time, the group had not received an official confirmation on whether he would be able to attend. The cemetery association had a temporary setback in April after someone stole more than 20 bricks from the wall. An anonymous business owner, however, donated new bricks for replacement. Volunteers were working hard to finish repairs on time.