Fourth graders join Summit County’s tradition to decorate graves ahead of Memorial Day

A fourth grader places a flag at the grave of a veteran buried at Valley Brook Cemetery in Breckenridge on Friday, May 26, 2023. The class took turns decorating the headstones with pennies and flags to show their love and respect ahead of Memorial Day.
Andrew Maciejewski/Summit Daily News

Pennies shimmered as dappled sun danced across the government-issued headstones scattered throughout Valley Brook Cemetery on Friday, May 26. 

American flags in hand, fourth graders from Upper Blue Elementary School spent the morning searching for visual cues and symbols as they walked through the cemetery, stopping each time they found a veteran. 

At each stop, the students took turns placing flags to show how much they appreciated the veterans’ service to our country. Each penny is a symbol of gratitude, and each headstone was adorned with copper by the end of the trip.  

“They deserve our …” June Walters prompted the class. 

“… respect,” the students chimed in. 

Upper Blue Elementary School students place pennies on a headstone at Valley Brook Cemetery in Breckenridge on Friday, May 26, 2023. The pennies act as a symbol of respect and love for veterans at cemeteries.
Andrew Maciejewski/Summit Daily News

The tradition to pay tribute to the veterans buried in Breckenridge began several years ago as a way to help students connect the history lessons they learn in class with the importance of Memorial Day. 

“It makes it relevant to them,” said Breckenridge History executive director Larissa O’Neil, who helped with the programming for the trip. “You know, we could talk all day about the history of Memorial Day, but for them to come here and walk through and place the markers, lay a penny, that’s the most meaningful way for them to learn. That’s how they’re going to make the biggest connection to the meaning behind this day.”

While none of the graves in Valley Brook belong to soldiers who lost their lives in battle, June Walters said there are at least 63 veterans buried there. To finish off the field trip, the students paid their respects to a monument established in honor of the unknown soldiers who died in active service. 

Jack Thomas places a flag at a monument established in honor of unknown soldiers who died while serving the United States.

“There are going to be lots of pennies …  all over as symbols of respect,” Walters said. “It’s nice to walk through this old cemetery and see that our older residents from our gold mining heyday are remembered.”

The cemetery includes graves for soldiers who fought in the Civil War with the Union Army, World War I, Korean War, Vietnam War and the War in Afghanistan. To help the students keep the tradition up in the future, they learned to identify rectangular headstones with rounded tops, to look at dates and search for symbols that help identify veterans. 

“They take it home to their parents,” Walters said. “They know it’s not just a holiday to have a barbecue.”

Flowers emerge from the ground near a section of Valley Brooke Cemetery dedicated to veterans. The cross acts as a monument to “the unknown dead” who died in service to the United States.
Andrew Maciejewski/Summit Daily News

The students took their job seriously as they meticulously searched the cemetery, stopping to share a moment of silence as they decorated the graves to show their love. 

Across Summit County, people volunteer each year to show their respect to veterans buried in other towns. Groups like the Summit County Elks Lodge, No. 2561, spend the weekend trimming grass, cleaning stones and replacing last year’s American flags with new ones before holding a get together in honor of the holiday. 

People plan to gather Monday at Dillon Cemetery at 10 a.m. for a ceremony honoring the men and women who died while serving their country, according to a news release from the town. The Elks Lodge, Summit County Boy Scout Troop 188 and Cub Scout Troop 186 will be taking part in the service. 

Following color guard, “The Star Spangled Banner,” the “Pledge of Allegiance” and table honors, there will be a reading of the names of the interred service members at the Dillon Cemetery, and The Summit Concert Band will perform a rendition of “America the Beautiful” and taps, a traditional bugle call associated with military funerals, according to previous Summit Daily News reports. 

The ceremony is free and open to the public, and participants can bring American flags to have them properly retired. 

Afterward, the public is invited to attend a barbecue at noon at the Elks Lodge, 1321 Blue River Parkway, Silverthorne. 

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