Written By: Barry Laminack
On Wednesday November 9, 2011 a few folks from TheCageDoor.net and a few proud veterans from around the Houston MMA scene got together to pay tribute to the men and women that have served our country so bravely. The event, known as the Avenue of Flags, is held each year a few days before Veterans Day at the Houston National Cemetery.
The purpose of the Avenue of Flags is to line the driveways of the cemetery with American flags in honor of those brave men and women who have served our country and now lay resting in peace on the grounds. This event replaces the old tradition of placing a flag at the headstone of each grave at the cemetery.
I asked one of the grounds keepers why they stopped placing flags at the headstones of the graves and was told, “Don’t ask me, ask your congressman. All I know is they [the soliders] were asked to risk their life for our country, for our flag; but for some reason we’re not allowed to put that flag at their headstone. The same flag that many of them gave their life for.”
During the course of our conversation somebody asked him how many funerals they have in a day at the cemetery. With out missing a beat, the man reached into his pocket, unfolded a tattered piece of paper and after counting the names twice for accuracy, he said matter-of-factly, “We buried 14 people today. That’s about average for us.”
“The most we have ever done was 28 in one day,” he added as he folded the paper and put it back into his shirt pocket.
He also shared with us that there are about 75,000 veterans buried there. Staggering numbers when you stop and think about it (and a sobering way to begin the day for sure), but not something that was going to deter any of the 8 of us who showed up to help with this event.
Few things are as moving as looking out amidst a sea of graves that seem to have no end. Yet as I stood at the edge of the grass at the Houston National Cemetery and looked out upon the 1,000’s of head stones, all neatly lined up in perfect rows like soldiers in a formation, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming since of sorrow and at the same time pride.
As I stood there listening to the wind whip the flags around I pondered the significance of each headstone. Those headstones didn’t only represent soldiers that have served our country and were willing to (and in many cases did) give their life so that I could be free. Each one of them also represented a story. It represented a decision that was made at least 75,000 times; that decision being that if at some point these brave men and women were asked to give up their life for their country, they would have done so unselfishly and with out hesitation.
Even beyond that though, those headstones represented 75,000 mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands and children. The people buried here were more than just brave soldiers, they had family and friends, kids and loved ones; all who made some sort of sacrifice so that these soldier could serve their country and protect our freedom.
PAYING IT FORWARD
I watched the 5 veterans on our team working side by side, all in a row, holding flag poles by their sides and waiting patiently for a flag to be hung on the end of it so that they could return the flag to the ground to fly proudly. As I snapped pictures and watched them work, something dawned on me. By their actions, these men, these veterans, whether they know it or not, are all paying it forward by being here today.
The thought crossed my mind that one day these same 5 guys could very well be buried here in this cemetery; and one day there will be a new group of veterans that will walk these paths, putting up flags in their honor, much like they are doing today. I doubt that this was their motivation, because knowing many of them as I do, they didn’t do this for any other reason other than to honor their fallen brothers.
I want to point out that our group did not do this alone. We had help from the most unlikely of resources. About 30 kids from Eisenhower High School were there as well. In fact, they show up every year to participate in the event and do so with little to no publicity for their efforts. Our hats are off to these kids. They took great care in handling and hanging each flag and it was an absolute pleasure to work along side them.
Thank you to the following outstanding individuals from the Houston MMA community for giving up their time for this event:
Joshua Beers – Duel Athletics – (Army)
Joe Trevino – 4oz Fight Club – (Marines)
Jeremy Mahon – 4oz Fight Club – (Marines)
Kevin Thomas – 4oz Fight Club – (Marines)
Mincho “War Cry” Torres – (Marines)
Cody Phillips – TheCageDoor.net and 4oz/Bam Bam Mixed Martial Arts
Marcia Ogasawara – TheCageDoor.net and Bam Bam Mixed Martial Arts
Special thank you to TCD Community Relations and Events Co-Ordinator Maricia Ogasawara for putting this together!
The impact that this event had on me was pretty profound. It only lasted about an hour but I can honestly say that the memory of it will last me a lifetime. I have always appreciated the men and women who have served (and are serving) our country, but never more than I do now.
And in what seemed to be a ironic ending to they day, as we returned to our cars and said our good-byes, we could hear TAPS being played off in the distance. I don’t know if it was coming from the memorial on site or if there was a funeral taking place but it was a befitting ending to a day that, for me, was filled with pride, reflection, and a bit of sadness. I never served our country, but the older I get the more I regret it.
Happy Veterans Day to all the veterans our their and thank you for your service! I hope you all enjoy the pictures and I look forward to doing this again next year and for many years to come.
NOTE: The Houston National Cemetery needs help taking the flags down on Monday so if you have about an hour our two to spare, please consider showing up to help out. Jeremy Mahon has already said he will be there and I am going to try to make it as well. I hope to see you there.
PICTURES (more on our Facebook Page – http://www.facebook.com/TheCageDoor)