The Ashland Cemetery on McDowell Creek Road will have 37 flags blowing in the breeze Monday to commemorate veterans buried there. The flags will fly thanks to Clarence Swallow, who served in the Korean War.
Swallow visited the Ashland Cemetery last year, like he does every year, on Memorial Day, to honor those who have served. He was disheartened by what he saw — or failed to see.
“I walked though the cemetery and there was only one flag laying on the ground and no one bothered to pick it up,” he said. “We didn’t even have a flag pole or anything.”
Sallow reached out to the township board members, expressing his concern with the lack of flagpole. They agreed and within a month the Ashland Cemetery had a flag and pole.
It will soon get something more: a box to hold 37 small flags, one for each veteran now known to have been buried in the cemetery. “I had promised if they would get a flagpole that I would make a box for the flag…it took me three boxes to be satisfied,” Swallow said.
Sallow’s patriotic drive and curiosity didn’t end there. In August he contacted the Riley County Genealogical Society and has since worked with volunteers Marcia Schuley and Linda Fetters, to identify veterans buried in Ashland. The 37 they identified will be recognized with those small flags decorating their graves on Memorial Day.
He credits the two women for the research finds.
“I just planted the seed, Marcia took off with the idea,” Swallow said.
Fetters and Schuley spent roughly 40 hours working with the Kansas Historical Society, “Ashland Cemetery Book,” ancestry.com, findagrave.com and other helpful resources to compile a list of the 290 people buried at the Ashland Cemetery. The 37, who served in the Civil, Persian Gulf or Korean wars, World War I, II or Desert Storm, had been buried in graves dating back to the 1870s.
“I was really surprised that no one who served in Vietnam was buried there,” Schuley said. “But if someone was buried in the cemetery — even if the records didn’t say they were a veteran — I’d check it.”
The women found lots of interesting information about the families and individuals.
“The census told us a lot about who was married to who and how many children they had; it was a very interesting project,” Schuley said. “There are a lot of Swedish people buried in that cemetery.”
It was easy for the women to get distracted by an interesting fact about a particular person and spend extra time looking into his or her history and lineage.
“Doing this research we found out information about people’s lives whom we knew but had no idea about,” Schuley said. “A man that I found, Robert Burk, his son was my daughter’s favorite teacher and he and his wife sold at the farmer’s market; I had no idea that he was a soldier during the D-Day invasion.”
Swallow couldn’t stress enough the importance of acknowledging the veterans as a small token of appreciation for their sacrifices.
“It is really important to me; I once saw some pictures on TV from cemeteries around the world and it gets to you,” he said. “We can do our small, little part here — it really gets to you — to see thousands and thousands of graves like that.”
The Ashland Community Church has been holding religious ceremonies at the cemetery for as long as Swallow remembers. He hopes the ceremonies continue to grow and eventually turn into military services, not just church ceremonies.
“We’re close knit enough that this means something to them as a community,” Swallow said. “I hope one day we can have the honor guard or something bigger.”
Once the veterans’ numbers were finalized, Swallow bought the flags — one for each grave — and has plans to secure each of them before Monday.
“I think Memorial Day will be a little more emotional for me this year; I’m really happy to see that the flags are happening,” he said. “I hope the crowds continue to improve for Memorial Day for those to remember…because that is what it’s for.”