Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts pay tribute to veterans buried at Camp Butler National Cemetery

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Michael Mitchell, 12, from Boy Scout Troop 52, puts flags in front of graves at Camp Butler National Cemetery on Saturday. [Thomas J. Turney/The State Journal-Register]
Michael Mitchell, 12, from Boy Scout Troop 52, puts flags in front of graves at Camp Butler National Cemetery on Saturday. [Thomas J. Turney/The State Journal-Register]

Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and interested observers from across central Illinois descended on Camp Butler National Cemetery on Saturday, just before Memorial Day, to plant flags at the graves of veterans there. They also got the chance to learn and remember those who put their lives on the line in defense of this nation.

Hundreds of Scouts made the annual trip to the cemetery to place the flags across the site, along with their parents and members of the public who wanted to pay tribute to veterans over the Memorial Day weekend. While one would expect that placing thousands of flags on the graves is a long and exacting process, it took them about an hour-and-a-half to get every flag into position.

Cemetery officials take time out to educate Scouts on what to do and what not to do when placing flags near the gravestones.

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For the Scouts and their families, it's an opportunity to pass down knowledge that has been learned from generation to generation — not just about placing a flag down in just the right spot, but about the importance of remembering what it means to be an American.

Mya Powell, 16, from Troop 1310 of Auburn, places flowers on relatives' graves after finishing putting flags in front of graves at Camp Butler National Cemetery on Saturday as part of the traditional placing of flags by Scouts prior to Memorial Day. [Thomas J. Turney/The State Journal-Register]
Mya Powell, 16, from Troop 1310 of Auburn, places flowers on relatives' graves after finishing putting flags in front of graves at Camp Butler National Cemetery on Saturday as part of the traditional placing of flags by Scouts prior to Memorial Day. [Thomas J. Turney/The State Journal-Register]

"It's all about honor," said Spencer Goff, a leader with Troop 46 of the Springfield-based Abraham Lincoln Council. "The kids get that, especially the ones who are associated with Scouts. My kids did this for decades, and it's a neat experience out here as you move through the cemetery and see hundreds of years of history."

Goff said the Scouts feel a kind of connection to history through planting the flags, getting the chance to remember who came before them and why they did what they did to protect this country.

"The kids get that connection to those that died for them that they would not otherwise," Goff said.

Becky Wood of Girl Scout Troop 6288 said her Scouts learn about the importance of honoring veterans from a very early age. With most of them now in middle school, she sees through the event lessons that have paid off in the long run.

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"We've always talked to them about the importance of remembering and honoring our veterans," Wood said. "That's the reason we're here, and we can learn from their different, varied experiences. We go through all of that and (we) remember that our country wouldn't be where it is without this."

One of her Scouts, Mackenzie Gist of Riverton, said being out there allows her to respect the sacrifices veterans made in order to protect the U.S.

"It makes me feel happy that I'm coming out here and doing this for them," Gist said.

Even for former Scouts, a desire to remember and honor veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice brings them out to Camp Butler to help. Sarah and Sydney Olson still attend with their father, Kent, an Army National Guard veteran from 1989 to 1994, despite not being a part of Girl Scouts any longer.

They came out to pay tribute to a babysitter and a family member who had passed, not to mention their enjoyment of the tradition.

"The first several years that we did this, we were with Girl Scouts," Sydney said. "Now, we just come out here to celebrate Memorial Day with everyone."

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The flags will only be up for a limited time. A group of Scouts will come out the day after Memorial Day to take them out. No matter how long the flags fly, Goff said the event provides a connection between generations, promising that each generation will not let the sacrifice of others fall into obscurity.

"It's about awareness," Goff said. "I don't think schools don't do a great job anymore (of) teaching history and they get disconnected. Out here, it's almost impossible to do. Look around you, there's thousands and thousands of people who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice so that we could be here today."

Contact Zach Roth: (217) 899-4338; ZDRoth@gannett.com; @ZacharyRoth13

This article originally appeared on State Journal-Register: Scouts pay tribute to veterans at Camp Butler National Cemetery