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Nov. 11, 2016 

 
Operation Flag  
 
 
Each Veterans Day, there are rows upon rows of miniature
American flags decorating the gravesites of thousands of fallen military
veterans, police officers and firefighters at Crown Hill Cemetery.

 

For the past 16 years, 1st Sgt. Richard Woodcox
has spearheaded this project, called Operation Flag, at three different IPS
schools. “We started this when I was at Manual, and we brought it with us to
Broad Ripple and then to John Marshall,” said the Army veteran.

 

During the last six years, however, the JROTC cadets from
John Marshall Community High School have braved the unpredictable early
November mornings to plant the flags, which must be 1 foot away from each headstone.Marshall Cadets

 

Saturday, Nov. 5, was no different, as a group
of 30 or more of John Marshall’s JROTC students arrived at the school around
7:15 a.m. to take a bus ride to Crown Hill. Once there, they divided into
groups — with miniature flags in hand — to cover the vast ground needed to
plant the flags in a couple of hours.

 

It’s a project students volunteer to do each year.

 

“Although it’s kind of sad, because of all of the veterans
who have died, it’s also beautiful to see all of the flags once we’re done,”
said Keyaiara B., a sophomore. “It’s something I wanted to do, even though it’s
kind of sensitive.” 

 

Operation Flag supports both the Indiana National and the Indiana Guard and Reserve
and Hoosiers Helping Hoosiers at Crown Hill. “The reason we do this is because the
Indiana Guard and Reserve has the flags, but they have no way of getting the thousands
of flags placed,” said Woodcox.

 

Before each visit to the gravesite, Woodcox gives students a
lesson on military customs and courtesies. They also spend lots of time talking
about the flag and the national anthem.

 

“We talk about Francis Scott Key and how the flag was
developed. We also talk about the Betsy Ross story, whether it’s true or not,
and about the different iterations of the flag going all the way up to its
current 50 stars and 13 stripes,” said Woodcox.

 

Of all of the ways the JROTC gives to the local community
throughout the year, Operation Flag is one of the most rewarding for everyone.

 

“I think it’s a neat project to do because it gives the
students a sense of pride,” said Woodcox. “And it really is neat because we’re
never there on Veterans’ Day, but I know families go out there to pay respects
to their deceased veteran. So, for them, the flags just miraculously appear.”

 

Daisha M., 18, said the fact that they’re up so early on a
Saturday morning — and even the coldness — starts to disappear as they are
planting flags one by one and she begins to think about the families.

 

“You think about what you’re doing and how the family is
going to feel when they see the flags,” said Daisha, a junior.

 

When they’re done, the feeling is almost indescribable.

 

“It’s kind of heartwarming to see how we’re showing love to
people who gave their lives to fight for our country,” said La-Quishiana J., a
16-year-old sophomore.

 

For Woodcox, it’s an honor to be able to give his students
this experience year after year. “Even in a small way, Crown Hill is the
ultimate opportunity to show that we respect the sacrifice that these veterans
made.”

 

And just as stealthily as students planted the flags, they
will remove them in the same way on Nov. 12 — until they do it again next
year.