ST. PAULS — For more than a decade David Polega has been taking his son Noah to Oakridge Cemetery on Broad Street to place American flags on the graves of people who served in the military.
Friday was no different, as the father-son duo joined about 20 other volunteers to continue the tradition, which is organized each year by McNeill-Mackie Funeral Home. This year, about 500 graves were flagged by the small group, about 25 more than last year.
“With the number of World War II and Korean veterans passing away, the number increases each year,” said Duncan Mackie, the funeral home’s director.
In addition to the Oakridge Cemetery, the group tackled McKinnon and Fisher cemeteries, and cemeteries at Great Marsh Baptist Church, St. Pauls Presbyterian Church, Rex Presbyterian Church and Lumber Bridge Presbyterian Church.
It’s important to help the youth understand the importance of the people who served their country, David said. This is the message he wants to pass down to his own son.
“I was with the National Guard unit here in St. Pauls,” he said. “I was stationed there for a while and I decided to bring him out. I think it’s good for younger people to understand there’s a lot going on and it’s important for them to know that no matter what, people fought for the country, died for the country. I think it’s important to instill that. There are people that died for our country to get where we are.”
Noah said participating each year is about “honoring the people that have fought for us and died.”
St. Pauls Mayor Elbert Gibson also joins the group each year.
“This is important for the Town of St. Pauls, the families and the community,” Gibson said. “It shows the respect for the people who have given everything. That’s very little for us to give back considering the sacrifice of what they gave.”
The mayor said he hopes more will be inspired to come out.
“I feel for these people who have lost family members, and this is just a way of respecting them,” Gibson said.
A good percentage of the flag-placing group is veterans, like Mackie, Kim Thompson and Michael Green, who are served in the U.S. Army.
“We want to honor our veterans,” said Mackie, who served three years in the U.S. Army in the 1970s. “A number of us are veterans and it’s just a special time for us to share our history with their history. The reason all of us are here and able to do this is because of those that gave all. It’s multi-generational.”
“This is Memorial Day weekend,” said Thompson, who served for two decades. “You need to show respect, honor those that’s no longer amongst us. I don’t mind doing that.”
Memorial Day is an American holiday observed on the last Monday of May to honor the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Originally known as Decoration Day, it originated in the years after the Civil War and became an official federal holiday in 1971.
The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina will honor fallen men and women by collaborating with the Lumbee Warriors Association to hold a Memorial Day Ceremony at 10 a.m. Monday at the Lumbee Tribe Cultural Center in Maxton.
Gary Deese, leader of the Association, will be the guest speaker. The ceremony also will include words from Lumbee Tribe Chairman Harvey Godwin Jr., a presentation of the American flag, a 21-gun salute and a wreath-laying ceremony.
The Tribe will also be opening its pool to the public for the first time on Monday from noon to 7 p.m. at the Cultural Center. Entry is $2 with an active tribal card (the card must be shown) and $3 without.
The National Weather Service is predicting hot weather and scattered showers and thunderstorms on Saturday to start the Memorial Day weekend. Daytime highs will be about 88 degrees, but southwest winds will significantly drop temperatures overnight to bring temperatures down into the mid-50s on Sunday. The forecast for Memorial Day, on Monday, calls for temperatures in the 80s and clear skies.
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at [email protected] or 910-416-5865.