May 29th, 2006

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Honoring the Fallen

By Ann Vogel for the Kitsap Sun

Boy Scout Chris Bricker made it his mission to replace the tattered, worn flags at the Retsil Veteran's Home Cemetery.

While placing hundreds of American flags at the graves of veterans, a local Boy Scout was dismayed that Old Glory was looking less than glorious.

"Some of the flags were falling apart," said 14-year-old Chris Bricker of Port Orchard. "They were all different sizes, and there weren't even enough for all the graves."

Bricker turned his dismay into an Eagle Scout project that will culminate tomorrow, Memorial Day, with the placing of one new 8-inch by 12-inch flag at each of the 2,400 graves at the Washington Veterans Home Cemetery at Retsil.

The Cedar Heights Junior High School eighth-grader will be joined by fellow scouts in his Troop 1523, scouts from Troop 1531, and any other early-risers who want to join in the effort to honor the deceased veterans. "We're hoping for good weather and a lot of helping hands at 7 a.m.," he said.

On Friday, sailors from the Bremerton-based aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis spent the day weeding, raking and preparing the cemetery for the flag-placing Monday.

Bricker spent months raising money for the new stars and stripes. With the support of scouts, local businesses and their customers, and community service organizations, he raised $2,000. That was enough to purchase flags for all the graves, plus an additional 600 for future graves.

"Some of my friends in the troop took donation cans to Rite-Aid and Safeway and some other stores, and I went to meetings, like for the Eagles, VFW, and Bethel Grange, to ask people to donate," he said. "With the money, I was able to order 3,000 flags, and there was some left over to buy containers so we can store the flags safely and keep them in good condition."

The 272 residents and the staff at Retsil Veterans Home welcome the scout's project.

"In the past, we've had complaints about how shabby the flags look on the graves when the scouts put them out on Memorial Day and Veterans Day," said Catherine Shaw, recreation manager and volunteer coordinator at the Veterans' Home.

"We know they've looked bad, but it's been tough because we just haven't had money in our budget to replace them."

Each holiday, when his troop placed the flags on the graves, Bricker noticed the star-spangled banners were becoming increasingly ragged, threadbare and faded.

"Chris saw how shabby they were becoming, told us he wanted to get new ones, and just said, 'I can do this!' Then he did," Shaw said. "He really cares about the veterans."

Shaw said the residents feel that Bricker's project honors them as well as departed veterans because it shows that they and their service to their country are not forgotten.

"They especially appreciated that it's young people who are honoring them because teenagers are so often portrayed negatively in the media," Shaw said. "This project shows them young people really do care about veterans."

Bricker is known for his leadership, sense of responsibility, and respect for others, according to his scoutmaster, Danne Brown.

"I've known Chris for six years, since he was a Webelo, and he's not shy when it comes to bettering the community," he said. "He just didn't like seeing those veterans disrespected by having tattered flags on their graves, so he worked hard to raise all the money, start to finish, and without using any troop funds. Working with him, and as retired military myself, I feel like I've contributed to my own flag."

Bricker, the son of Barbara and Mark Bricker, also excels in school and is involved in local theater.

He plans to continue visiting the cemetery with his scout troop each Memorial Day and Veterans Day to bedeck the graves with the red, white, and blue.

Beginning Monday, the colors at the hilltop cemetery will wave more brightly.
~ Ann Vogel for the Kitsap Sun

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