GREENFIELD — Their blue and gold jerseys stood out against the sea of red, white and blue.
With their hands over their hearts, they recited the Pledge of Allegiance. As taps echoed throughout the cemetery, the young men stood poised and looked toward the flag.
Members of the Greenfield-Central High School football team and their families were among dozens of residents who attended Monday’s Memorial Day service in Park Cemetery. The weekend before, the boys spent hours helping the local American Legion set up hundreds of American flags honoring deceased Hancock County veterans.
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Conducted every year, the Memorial Day ceremony gives local families the opportunity to remember veterans who died serving their country.
Since the Revolutionary War, more than 1.1 million men and women have lost their lives fighting battles on American and foreign soil, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs; for 59 years, the Dale E. Kuhn American Legion Post 119 and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2693 have planned and hosted the local event to pay homage to them.
And for more than 40 years, members have erected the Avenue of Flags in the cemetery to honor their fallen comrades; this year, the Greenfield-Central High School football team helped place each of the 739 flags that will stand in Park Cemetery through Saturday.
One of the team’s initiatives is to give back to the community, and head coach Adam Sherman couldn’t think of a better way than to stand beside the men and women who fought for freedom as they honor their fellow compatriots.
American Legion members needed the boys’ help, and the teammates gave their time and youthful energy, Sherman said. Next weekend, they’ll be back at the cemetery to put the flags away for the year.
Junior Austin Mullins said he plans to be back at the event next year and in the years that follow. Helping with the flags and attending the event gave him the opportunity to reflect on the reason Memorial Day is celebrated, he said.
“It’s something so simple you can do to honor the people who fought for you,” he said.
Memorial Day is a chance to honor heroes and say thank you for the sacrifices they made, said Ed Perez, a veteran of the United States Air Force and the event’s honorary speaker.
Those who gave their lives in distant battlefields possessed many of the same qualities: courage, pride, determination and selflessness, he said.
“They didn’t go to war because they loved fighting. They were called to be part of something bigger than themselves,” Perez said.
Community members stood and watched the rifle salute; as taps played, many bowed their heads. They were given tiny American flags to place on the gravesites of veterans buried in the cemetery.
After the ceremony ended, many in attendance set out to find the flag representing their loved one.
The Greenfield-Central football team took a moment to stand near the flag honoring former Greenfield-Central coach Clayton Myers, a longtime coach who died in 2013. Myers served in the Korean War.
Beside his flag, the team huddled together, chanting “family” before heading home.
As the boys left the cemetery, Sherman said he couldn’t be prouder of them for being part of an event so important to the community and country.
“They were respectful, attentive and emotional,” he said. “They were men here today.”