In spite of Monday’s cold wind, members of Perry American Legion Post 85 honored their fallen comrades by placing a U.S. Flag at each veteran’s grave at Violet Hill Cemetery in Perry.
Post Commander Mike Kelley was assisted in the annual ritual by Legionnaires Mahlon Conaway, Stanley Johnson, Tom South and and Kevin Jacobs.
Conaway will receive a special honor on Memorial Day, Monday, May 25, during ceremonies at the Perry Performing Arts Center. He will receive the National Order of the Legion of Honor, the highest military distinction awarded by the nation of France. The Legion of Honor was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802.
Conaway served in France in 1944 and 1945 as well as in Germany and Austria. The award will be bestowed upon him by the French Consular General during Monday’s ceremonies.
“I was just an old dog trying to get by,” Conaway, 89, said Monday, “just an old infantry boy.”
He said he was in email contact for several years with a Frenchman who started a program at a number of local French schools. He shared with students research he had done on the backgrounds of U.S. soldiers buried in France’s military cemeteries, describing their pre-war lives as farmers, mechanics, business people or laborers.
He then gave the students roses and asked them to find the graves of their chosen U.S. service persons and place the roses at their graves. He asked them to do the same thing every year, and now there are thousands of French school children honoring the American dead in this way, Conaway said.
Conaway returned to France in 2001 for the first time since World War II. He said he got to chatting with a Frenchman in a Paris hotel who said, “Do you tell those people out on the street that if it wasn’t for you, we’d all be speaking German now?”
No, Conaway said, he didn’t tell people that. Most are now too young to understand those days, he said.
Conaway said lost his wife of 67 years about three months ago. He said he told her things about the war he has never told to anyone else.
Perry’s Legionnaires also received help Monday afternoon from seven members of the Woodward Academy’s Delta Company, described as a high-structure program at the academy. The young men placed flags on the graves of Perry veterans resting in the western half of Violet Hill Cemetery.
WA Instructor Ben Foster said the school had been doing the project for several years and were glad to honor the veterans.
“We will check each spot,” one of the students said. “We don’t want to miss a single one. It is an honor to do this”
The honor of placing Memorial Day flags on veterans’ graves at Violet Hill has also been shared for many years by the Perry Historic Preservation Commission.