In Memoriam

For the Troop 81 Boy Scouts, Memorial Day is one of the most meaningful days of the year.

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photo by Damian Zottoli

Over 600 flags planted by Boy Scouts Troop 81 over a field in Pittsburgh’s North Hills, honoring the lives of men and women who have died in combat.

By Lorenzo Zottoli, North Allegheny Senior High School

As late May approaches each year, we grow closer to a day of remembrance, honor, and pride—Memorial Day. Beginning in the late 1800s, Americans have remembered the millions of lives lost in battle for hundreds of years. As growing generations tend to neglect Memorial Day, it is important to acknowledge the reason why we celebrate this holiday.

Growing up, it was always instilled in my brother and me to respect and honor our military soldiers and veterans, as my dad and uncle are both in the military. More recently, my brother also joined the service, making an even bigger reason for why we have this tradition every year—flag-planting.

It is a simple yet meaningful tradition that my Boy Scout troop participates in every year.

“For the past five years, I have participated in flag-planting with Troop 81,” junior Luke Rumpler explained. “First, we clean and edge the headstones in the ground and take all the extra dirt to a new site, then we plant one flag down at each headstone, and there are a lot.”

The memorial site is located at Christ Our Redeemer Cemetery, with over 600 headstones dedicated to veterans who died in battle. Flag planting days consist of 15-20 scouts heading down to the cemetery at 8:00 in the morning. The following hours take place outside on a field edging each individual headstone while planting flags shortly after. 

Boy Scout Troop 81 Scouts at the Memorial Day service. (photo by Damian Zottoli)

“I never really paid attention to Memorial Day before I started participating in this event. I have gained so much respect for our military from flag-planting,” junior Matthew Koah said.

After the flag-planting is complete the scouts head home for the day and prepare for the following Monday service and Carry the Load. Carry the Load is an organization that helps soldiers carry “the load” when they are unable to. Each Scout who participates represents a fallen soldier from combat, having a large sack on their back. The scouts walk through town into the Memorial Day service located where the flags were planted miles away. Once the scouts who participated in Carry the Load arrive, the ceremony commences.

“We carry these really heavy backpacks full of stuff and walk through a parade on our way to the field,” Rumpler said. “It’s one of my favorite memories.” 

Boy Scout Troop 81 Scouts walking up the field presenting the American flag. (photo by Damian Zottoli)

Once the ceremony starts, over 60 scouts unravel a 150-foot flag that stretches across the field. Members of the community and family members of the scouts involved watch from the top. A bugler begins to play in the distance and the scouts walk the flag up the field of flags closer to the stage. Once stationed the scouts stand in solitude with the flag, guest singers from the community begin to sing solemn songs about America.

Guest speakers take the stage to present speeches to the community. Guest speakers include the troop’s Senior Patrol Leader, World War II veterans, and local government officials and ends with a speech from the troop’s Scout Master. After the speakers are done, each scout who is holding the flag gets handed a piece of paper with a name, birth and death date, position, and birthplace of a fallen soldier.

The scouts then proceed to walk up to the microphone one by one and read off the note, honoring the fallen soldiers from the past year. Once completed, the bugler once agains plays while the scouts lead the flag back down the field, properly storing and folding it until the following year. As the ceremony concludes, a celebration of hope and perseverance comes through as scouts and family members sing classic patriotic songs, such as “This Land is Your Land” and “God Bless America.”

“Seeing all of these young kids come together on Memorial Day gives me a sigh of relief that our community still cares and wants to learn about what our brave men and women give up for our country every day,” Sergeant David Stone, a World War II veteran, expressed.

This event can be a time of reflection for some scouts who participate.

“Every year, I participate in the Memorial Day service,” North Hills graduate John Bako said. “It almost acts as a wake-up call for myself and other scouts. I never realized how much I take for granted until I have to stand holding the flag and listen to the countless names of young men and women get read off.” 

This national holiday is more than just a day off from school or work—it’s a day to remember and give back. Remember the brave men and women who gave their lives for our country, and remember the dads and moms who left their lives behind while serving in a different country. Most importantly, remember the stories of the soldiers who left us too early to make sure we can continue to have our freedom.

This story was originally published on The Uproar on May 28, 2021.