Most of them already have American flags stirring in the breeze Friday afternoon. Amato and four other volunteers are finishing up the flag placement in advance of Memorial Day.
Amato has been placing Memorial Day flags at Lakeside for the past 30 years. A member of Hancock’s American Legion Post 186, he served in the U.S. Navy in 1955 and 1956 during the Korean War, stationed in Chicago on Great Lakes shore patrol.
“They got places everywhere for people to serve and I wasn’t on the front line,” Amato says.
His eye comes to rest on a white granite headstone with a convex top covered in gray moss.
“I gotta catch this stone over here, it looks like a veterans stone,” Amato says.
The U.S. government provides grave markers — either upright stones, brass plates or flat granite markers — to veterans who ask for them. This stone has been standing since 1928.
“Let’s see, E-L-M ... Elmer Pike.” he says.
“ELMER PIKE,” he shouts to Dick Richards, who is standing about 50 yards away holding the map of the cemetery and the list of veterans.
“He’s not on here,” Richards answers.
“He’s on there,” Amato replies.
Elmer Ernest Pike was a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps. He died March 13, 1928. The headstone doesn’t list a birth date.
Other headstones tell somewhat more complete stories, which give Amato something to think about while he places flags alongside them.
“You start to think of all the things that they experienced during their lifetime,” Amato says. “Nobody brags about their service time and what they did. You’ll have people who had the Purple Heart or Silver Star and you never knew until you saw it on their gravestone.”
A lot of the veterans’ gravestones in Lakeside don’t stand out from the others until they have flags alongside them.
“It’s hard to believe there’s so many flags in this cemetery,” Amato says. “Those are all veterans. You don’t realize there are so many veterans.”
Amato knows many of the veterans.
“My best friend’s right directly across on the hillside there, Doug Holmgren,” Amato says. “He died last year at an early age, 62, I guess. He worked with me a lot putting out flags and stuff.”
Holmgren served in the Air Force during Vietnam.
In one section of Lakeside Cemetery near the entrance, the Alfred Erickson Post American Legion Veterans Plot, all of the graves are marked with flags.
“The guy that put all of those flags out in that section, he and I joined the Navy together, Pete Houle, we joined the same day,” Amato says.
Amato drew the map and made the list of the veterans in Lakeside Cemetery.
Post 186 places flags at more than 1,200 cemeteries spread among Lakeside, Waasa, Liminga and Oscar cemeteries.
Richards, with the notebook containing the map and list, has helped place flags in the past.
“I always think of the veterans,” he says. “It’s kind of sad. Some of the people I knew really well. Some of the people were out of the service when they died but some of those who died in the service ...”
He’s called on to check another name off the list before he completes the thought.
Dan Schneider can be reached at email@example.com
Dan Schneider/Daily Mining Gazette
At the Lakeside Cemetery in Hancock on Friday, American flags mark the graves of those who served. The flags are placed in advance of Memorial Day by volunteers.