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Sailors tend to fallen veterans' graves | SLIDESHOW

MARYSVILLE — More than 50 active-duty enlisted personnel from Naval Station Everett volunteered on Thursday, May 23, to beautify the graves and markers of the veterans who have been laid to rest at the Marysville Cemetery. Their work included cleaning, hand-trimming and edging around veterans' markers, beside which they also placed American flags.

Electrician's Mate 1st Class Michael Simmons and Interior Communications Electrician 1st Class Steven Smith were among the roughly two dozen members of the day's afternoon crew to tackle the graves and markers, and they treated the fallen military members like family, with both men referring to the deceased veterans as brothers and sisters who'd gone on before.

"There was one grave here, of a Spanish-American War veteran, that hadn't been touched in who knows how long," Smith said.

"We need to maintain the memory of what these guys and gals have done for us, so that we can go home and spend time with our families," Simmons said. "They deserve better than overgrown headstones and anonymity."

Hull Technician 1st Class Jeff Hanke feels connected to veterans who have passed on through his own heritage, with grandfathers who served during World War II in various branches of service, one of whom was a prisoner of war who went through the Bataan Death March, as well as an uncle who was an electrician's mate second class on board USS Camden in the 1970s.

"I'm here to honor these veterans for allowing me to serve my country," said Hanke, and he dug up the grass and soil that had overtaken the edges of one marker. "Not everybody is for what we do, but they need to understand that we do it for them."

Electrician's Mate 1st Class Richard Smith hopes civilians will see the sailors, working in their camouflage uniforms in the cemetery, as an example of what military members do for their communities at home as well as overseas, while Information Systems Technician 1st Class Devin Harris sees the graves and markers as a stark reminder of how history can repeat itself.

"At any moment, things can change, like they did in Pearl Harbor, and like they did on 9/11," Harris said. "Whether you served as a secretary or on the battlefield, it's important to respect the uniform and wear it with honor. Seeing all these veterans' graves takes my breath away."

This cleanup comes ahead of the Marysville American Legion Post 178 annual Memorial Day ceremony on Monday, May 27, at 11 a.m. at the Marysville Cemetery, located at 8801 State Ave. Each year, American Legion members, community partners and cemetery staff orchestrate a patriotic display of more than 230 donated veterans' burial flags, which fly alongside the cemetery's driveways. The flags are retired and reposted by volunteers at the dusk and dawn of each day of the holiday weekend, from Saturday, May 25, through Monday, May 27. Donations of veterans' flags should be directed to the Marysville Cemetery by calling 360-659-5762.

Retired Air Force veteran and 38th Legislative District Rep. John McCoy of Tulalip will serve as guest speaker for the event, which is also set to feature the Marysville-Pilchuck High School Band and Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, as well as a joint Honor Guard rifle salute to the fallen.

Immediately following the service will be an open house and light lunch at the Marysville American Legion Post 178 Hall, located at 119 Cedar Ave., from noon to 2 p.m. Seating for both events is limited, but both are free and open to the public. Log onto http://americanlegion178wa.cfsites.org for more information.

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