More than 200 local faithful arrived at Riverside Memorial Park Cemetery in Jupiter, Nov. 15, 2020 to plant American flags at the gravesites of veterans buried in the Garden of Valor and Garden of Honor cemetery plots. Organized by the Florida State Council Knights of Columbus regional administrator, Bill Sodan, the event was well-attended despite it being postponed from the previous weekend due to Tropical Storm Eta.
“I’m thrilled that it’s a lovely day today and that the change of plans didn’t hamper everyone’s enthusiasm to honor our vets,” said Sodan.
The flag planting memorial opened with a prayer and a salute to the American flag raised above the cemetery grounds. Paul Davisson, a Knight of Columbus, played “Taps” on his trumpet during the salute. Knights handed out more than 3,000 miniature American flags, the cost of which was generously covered by Riverside Memorial Park Cemetery.
Supporting those who serve and those who have served as been a long-time effort of the Knights of Columbus. According to the organization’s historic overview, a number of the founding members of the Knights of Columbus were veterans, making acts of patriotism and maintaining close relationships with both active-duty personnel and veterans of military service an important cause for the Catholic organization. Overseas military councils are in countries where the United States has a long-established military presence, including Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Japan and South Korea. New military councils were recently established at Fort Bragg, North Carolina and Fort Carson, Colorado. In each location, the Knights of Columbus work in close cooperation with the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA. Since before World War I, the Knights have provided for the spiritual and temporal well-being of military personnel, and that work continues today.
Among the various volunteer groups present at the flag planting memorial were members of local Boy Scout troops, juniorettes from the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, Knights from local parish councils and families of current service members and retired veterans. Rachel Vodopija, a young woman from Stuart, came to the flag planting memorial with her son, Lawrence, and her father, Andrew. Rachel shared that being in the armed forces “runs her family”—her boyfriend is a marine who recently returned from deployment and her father spent 37 years as an officer in the U.S. Navy.
Andrew expressed that he was “grateful to be able to spend the day with my daughter and grandson honoring those that came before me.”
He continued, “Planting flags at each veteran headstone not only honors those who sacrificed for our country but, also serves as an example for my grandson of what patriotism means.”
Leeann Hinds, an audiologist at the West Palm Beach VA Medica Center, encouraged her daughter Adriana, a student at All Saints School in Jupiter, to volunteer for the flag planting memorial.
“Every headstone tells a story,” said Leeann. “It’s important to teach our children—the next generation—what these individuals sacrificed for us to live in a free country. Working at the VA, I meet so many people that have served us with honor. It’s an honor to give back to them today.”
Danny Kleisley, a junior at Cardinal Newman High School in West Palm Beach, came to the memorial with his classmate, John Webster. Both were encouraged to volunteer with planting flags through their youth group leader at St. Jude Church in Tequesta.
“My grandfather joined the navy after he went to college. I’m lucky that he survived and came home safely to start a family. My life could have turned out a lot differently,” said Danny.
The Connolly and Burkly families, also from All Saints School, joined the memorial together in hopes of instilling a spirit of support for veterans in their children.
Victoria Burkly, an elementary school student, indicated with a wide sweep of her hand at the number of headstones with a newly planted flag. “There are a lot of people who worked in the army.” She then shouted across the field, “Thank you!”
To learn more about the Florida State Council of the Knights of Columbus and its Diocese of Palm Beach parish affiliations, visit floridakofc.org. Follow the Diocese of Palm Beach online at diocesepb.org and Facebook @DiocesePB to stay updated on special events and volunteer opportunities in our community.