Neither my husband Willard nor I have missed a Memorial Day service for many years.This year, we attended my grandson's graduation in Wyoming and we were traveling that day. We did help take down the Avenue of Flags on Tuesday after we returned, folding and putting them in suitcases for storage until next year.
So, we felt like we had touched some deceased veterans, particularly the heroes honored with special flags on Monument Hill in the Wood Lake cemetery
One of those young men is Willard's grandson, Josiah G. Hollopeter. This year is the 10th anniversary of his death – the victim of a sniper bullet in an intense battle in Iraq in 2007. The date was June 14 -- Flag Day.
Josiah's mother, Kelly Williams Hollopeter pondered what she might do to honor her son on this particular anniversary. So, a year or more ago, she began making 3x5 ft. American flags; she sewed 45 such beautiful and durable flags. Then, she began a monumental project -- a 6 x12 ft. flag to be flown in honor of her son and all who gave the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.
That flag had its inaugural on Memorial Day in the Wood Lake cemetery. How beautiful it was as it unfurled above the monument on the hill.
On Flag Day, a dedication of her flag will be held at the Justice Center in Valentine and another flag of the same size at the Valentine Fire Hall.
To the family, it will be “Josiah Day.”
Family members and friends plan to do things Josiah loved to do, such as tubing down the Niobrara and grilling burgers at a campsite. I'm sure there will be reminiscing, making memories and soothing pain that still endures.
As Willard and I visited Josiah's grave, we noticed some coins on his tombstone. Perhaps you have noticed such coins as you walked by grave sites of veterans, particularly those who were killed in action.
There was a penny, a dime and a quarter on Josiah's stone.
In reviewing the custom, I found that it began during the Vietnam War, when buddies would pay respects without contacting the family directly. It provides comfort for the families, as it does today.
A penny means someone visited to pay respects. A nickel represents someone who was in training or in boot camp with the deceased. Dimes mean they served together. Quarters mean the visitor was with the fallen when he was killed.
Whoever left the coins had to have traveled many miles to Wood Lake.
I wished the visitors would have contacted us, but for right now, on this 10th anniversary and in a unique way, the family knows Josiah is not forgotten.