500 Vets Identified During Memorial Day ‘Flagging’ at Woodlawn Cemetery

500 Vets Identified During Memorial Day ‘Flagging’ at Woodlawn Cemetery
by David Greene

Volunteers have one again placed flags at the graves of U.S. Service men and woman buried at the Woodlawn Centenary.–Photo by David Greene

Some 250 volunteers spent the week before Memorial day on the painstakingly, daunting task of locating the more than 7,000 members of the U.S. Military who are buried among the 310,000 individuals buried at the sprawling 40-acre site at Woodlawn Cemetery.

Major Fernando Maria of the Washington Greys Military Cadets, based out of the Kingsbridge Armory since 1957, was joined by 35 youngsters, who were given maps of the cemetery, located the G.I.’s and placed small American flags at the head of the tombstones of all military members.

Soldiers buried at Woodlawn Cemetery include those who died in the Korean Expedition of 1871.–Photo by David Greene

Nearing the end of his day, Maria explained, “We’ve been here since about 10 in the morning… we had 4 sheets, roughly about 500 graves. We completed one whole section and my other three team leaders completed good portions of their sections.”

Asked if it was time well spent, Maria replied, “Absolutely it’s a great way to spend the weekend. It gives these kids a sense of respect for the people that served our country and gives them a little pride.”

Phil and Jinny Michaels of Rockland County spent most of the week placing flags at the graves of U.S. military members.–Photo by David Greene

Notable soldiers at Woodlawn include newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer, who came to America in 1864 to serve with the Union Army during the American Civil War; Bronx native Sergeant Natale Greco, who’s B-24 was shot down over Germany during WWll and Sergeant Abraham Lincoln Colon-Perez, a Purple Heart recipient who was killed in action in South Vietnam.

Barbara Saleski, the director of marketing at the Woodlawn Conservancy was ecstatic when she stated, “We found 500 this year!”

Susan Olsen, the historian at the Woodlawn Conservancy, later explained, “Here’s how we find additional veterans, one of our volunteers has been going through meaningful archives and looking at death certificates and it will give the profession as being in the military or else it will show they died while in the military, so that’s how we added more names. Other volunteers have been reading obituaries, so they will find it in the obituaries… so its just continued research.”

A dozen flags mark the graves of U.S. military members buried at Woodlawn Cemetery.–Photo by David Greene

Olsen noted that the website Ancestry.com provides many service records from W.W. ll, She states, “So that’s how we keep coming up with more names. Its really a challenge for a private cemetery, because we only have so many military markers, especially those buried in mausoleums, nobody would know they served and this is how we’re figuring it out.”

The 150 members of the Woodlawn Conservancy are a dedicated corp of volunteers who continue research on the architecture of the mausoleums, biographies of the individuals buried at Woodlawn and identifying military members.

Besides the Washington Greys, other groups that participated this year included Boy Scout Troop 25 from Yonkers, N.Y., Girl Scout Troop 1185 and the New York Bank of Mellon and workers from Jet.com, the online arm of Amazon.com held “Community days” at the cemetery.

Olsen adds, “So its been really nice, we’ve been seeing a lot more corporate folks that say lets do more for the community and they’ve been coming out here to flag.”

Funding to the Woodlawn Conservancy comes from donations, Saleski notes, ” And we’re always looking for people to support our conservancy to become members, so it actually helps us get all these projects completed.”

For more information on the Woodlawn Conservancy, visit their website at: www.thewoodlawncemetery.org/woodlawn-conservancy/.

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