Between the raindrops, Scouts help honor the war dead at Union Cemetery

05/24/2014 3:08 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

The friends of Kansas City’s Union Cemetery decided to switch things up this Memorial Day weekend and host their holiday services on Saturday instead of Monday.

And then it rained.

But the cemetery has friends who don’t mind getting wet — young volunteers who got up early Saturday morning and spent more than two hours traipsing through wet grass and walking under big, drippy trees to place hundreds of tiny flags on the graves of soldiers.

Undaunted, they suited up in rain gear and boots, true to the Boy Scout motto of “be prepared.”

“It’s just rain,” said Adam Nissley, 15, senior patrol leader for Troop 288, one of about 16 Scout volunteers who showed up for flag duty.

Every Memorial Day celebration at the city’s oldest public cemetery begins with the placing of the flags. This year, Scouts from Troops 288 and 303, plus Cub Scout Pack 303, all from the Northland, volunteered for the duty.

“It symbolizes that I have respect for the dead warriors of the country,” said Christopher Steinkamp, 13, a Troop 288 Scout who wore his heavy-duty L.L. Bean hiking boots and cold-weather socks for the trek.

Watching the boys with soggy cemetery maps report back to Randy Meador, Troop 288 Scoutmaster who headed up the operation, Kevin Fewell said, “I wish we had more of that.”

Fewell is president of the Union Cemetery Historical Society, the group that works to keep the cemetery vital and find it new friends. Located just south of Crown Center, the historic cemetery is the resting place for many of the people who founded and built Kansas City.

The city’s first postmaster, William Miles Chick, and first police officer, Tillman Crabtree, are buried there alongside thousands of war dead, veterans from the Revolutionary War through Vietnam. On Saturday, the cemetery made special note of Nathaniel Gwynne, a Medal of Honor winner from the Civil War buried there.

Because Memorial Day ceremonies have become so popular, the society hoped that moving its function to Saturday would draw a bigger crowd. A handful of stalwarts, including neighbors from the nearby Union Hill neighborhood, came. Fewell was happy with that, given the weather and the new day.

Under an unrelenting mist, a bagpiper played as the Scouts and re-enactors from the Sons of the American Revolution and Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War marched to the cemetery’s main flagpole.

A Scout color guard raised the American flag to half-staff before Fewell welcomed the guests, who sat in front of him on folding chairs huddled under umbrellas.

The brief ceremony unfolded with traditional Memorial Day pageantry — the Pledge of Allegiance, an invocation and a dramatic reading of the Memorial Day Order of 1868 that designated the 30th day of May for the “purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in the defense of their country.”

Fifteen-year-old Scout Nikolas Ufferman read the Gettysburg Address in a minute and a half, a tad quicker than Abraham Lincoln’s famous delivery in 1863.

The Scouts will return to the cemetery on Monday — alas, more rain is forecast — to pick up the flags. Andrew Ufferman, 9, hopes that lots of people get to see them before then.

“For all the people who come to visit,” said Andrew, “this shows that we care.”

To reach Lisa Gutierrez, call 816-234-4987 or send email to lgutierrez@kcstar.com.

A cemetery fundraiser

Half of the proceeds of the 19th annual Union Hill Garden Tour will benefit the Union Cemetery Historical Society. The tour is from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 8. Tickets are $10, $8 for people 60 and older, and free for children 12 and younger. Learn more at Facebook.com/UnionHillGardenTour.

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