Hermiston High School football players did their part Friday afternoon to help remember the veterans who sacrificed for their freedoms.
The team — plus some alumni and incoming players — put up almost 800 flags around the Hermiston Cemetery to mark the start of Memorial Day weekend.
“We preach family and brotherhood, and this is in remembrance of the guys who paid the ultimate price for them to go out and play on Friday nights and attend safe schools,” said David Faaeteete, head coach of the Bulldogs.
He said he appreciated the tradition, which started before he arrived in Hermiston, as an opportunity to build a sense of citizenship in his players and give them perspective on their lives. Each flag they put up memorializes a different veteran from the area who died. Thinking about those individuals’ sacrifices makes the things asked of them, like working hard in practice and doing their schoolwork, seem like less of a burden.
“Waking up early doesn’t seem like much of a sacrifice looking at these,” Faaeteete said, gesturing at the hundreds of full-sized flags lining walkways and rows of graves.
He said he appreciated the veterans who help put together the Avenue of Flags project for taking the time to talk to the team each year about the values of teamwork and trust.
On Friday two trailers pulled by tractors circled the cemetery slowly, piled high with flags. Football players and coaches ran back and forth, grabbing a new flag pole and then working in teams of two or three to snap the poles together, place them upright in the holes in the ground and unfurl the flag wrapped around it. Late Monday afternoon they will repeat the entire process in reverse.
Emilio Ortiz, a junior, said the small holes around the main walkways were marked in orange, but the ones running through the grassy parts of the were harder to find. He didn’t mind searching in the hot sun, however.
“We’re just giving back to the community for all the stuff they’ve done for us, and for our program,” he said.
Jonathan Hinkle, also a junior, echoed Ortiz’s sentiments as the two worked together to put a flag pole in place. He said he liked the opportunity to give back to the community and pay respect to veterans. He also appreciated the symbolism of all the flags.
“It represents America to me,” he said.
Phil Jarmer of Hermiston’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4750 said a lot of the veterans who attend the annual Memorial Day ceremony are no longer physically able to come out and help drag flag poles off trailers and put them up, so the football team’s work is something the VFW is very grateful for.
“They help us every year and we really appreciate it,” he said.
Jarmer said they also appreciate the Boy Scouts who came out ahead of time to clear grass and mud out of hundreds of small holes in the ground so that the football team could find them and fit the poles in.
Jarmer and others from VFW Post 4750 and American Legion Post 37 will head up a Memorial Day program at 10 a.m. Monday at Hermiston Cemetery. The event, which is free and open to the public, will include a short message, recognition of all local veterans who died in the past year, the playing of “Taps” and a flag folding and presentation ceremony for a local veteran who recently died and has yet to receive military honors.
Contact Jade McDowell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-564-4536.