AUGUSTA — Bill Logan, a 75-year-old Army veteran, has been placing flags on the graves of fallen veterans since 1983.

“It’s not about who’s laying the flags, it’s about who’s being decorated with the flag,” he said. “Sometimes, that’s the only visit some of these vets get all year.”

Logan, along with other volunteers and members of the Augusta American Legion Post 205, worked through the week to decorate hundreds of veterans’ graves in central Maine cemeteries with a flag. The annual flag decoration tradition persists this year, despite most  central Maine Memorial Day events being canceled due to coronavirus-related restrictions.

Howard Betts, the Augusta Legion’s finance officer, said the post decorates graves of veterans in 18 cemeteries around central Maine. On Monday, he was in Farmingdale at Carter Cemetery.

“I think it means a lot,” he said. “I know it means a lot to the veterans.”

Logan said the system for marking graves used to just be an alphabetized list of names, which required flipping through lists at every grave. Over the years, as stones eroded and became nearly unrecognizable, the list became a grid and hints were used to find some graves.

Bill Logan, left, places a flag in front of the headstone of Fred Freeman at Mt. Hope Cemetery on Thursday in Augusta. Logan, Dana Cyr, center, and Fred Umphrey volunteer with American Legion Post 2 in Augusta to track down and place a flag next to 600 veterans’ grave markers in Augusta’s cemeteries ahead of Memorial Day. The labor, which the Post has done since 1983, is repeated when the men return to the plots to collect each flag following the holiday. Freeman, who served with the infantry, died in France during World War I. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

“When I first started, it would take a week; from sun up to sun down,” he said.

Logan said the list of deceased veterans grows each year, which now, sadly, includes a number of familiar names.

“When I first started in ’83, we were dealing with total strangers,” he said. “Now, it’s classmates from high school and even some younger than that.”

Fred Umphrey, 69, of Pittston, said he placed between 500 and 600 flags last week. Umphrey, who spent 36 years in the Army, said it was important to place the flags each year to “recognize the sacrifice” veterans made for the country.

“Having spent all the years I did in the military, it’s camaraderie,” he said. “These people, male and female, believed in what they did.”

This year, the group from the American Legion had some help from Cony High School students.

Avery Theriault, 15, said she felt compelled to volunteer because her father, Shon, was in the Air Force and is a member of the American Legion. She said she respects veterans for “everything they’ve done for our country.”

“It’s something I’m passionate about,” Theriault said.

She said it was “really cool” to be around all of the veterans working to place flags near graves and was impressed with their initiative to find all of the veterans in the cemeteries.

“It was awesome,” Theriault said.

Officials at Togus VA Medical Center said they would not be able to host their traditional Memorial Day ceremony at the facility. A video is being produced to be posted on the facility’s website and Facebook page Monday. Togus’s cemeteries, which will have flags and wreathes placed on each headstone, will be open to the public Memorial Day. Spokesperson Michelle Tancrede said people are encouraged to visit “at their leisure while adhering to social distancing guidelines.”

Similarly, organizers in Wayne planned to record a 20-minute commemoration to be posted on the town’s website at 11 a.m. Earlier this month, organizers recorded a flag raising and wreath laying to be included in that recording.

In Gardiner, Mayor Pat Hart will read a Memorial Day proclamation live at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the city’s Facebook page.

Umphrey said people can still honor veterans on Memorial Day, perhaps by driving through cemeteries or placing notes in the newspaper or online.

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