Flags placed at veterans cemetery 'because someone fought for us'
Group renews tribute of U.S. flag at every Houston National Cemetery grave
Updated 1:07 am, Monday, May 27, 2013
Bob Fussner stood hunched over Sunday morning as he helped load several large boxes and coolers into a moving truck parked outside the Houston National Cemetery Administration building. While Fussner took a sip of his bottled water and fanned himself with his U.S. Marine Corps hat, a lady in an SUV pulled up next to him, windows down.
"Thank you so much," the woman said with tears in her eyes. "God bless you."
Fussner smiled and waved as the lady drove along.
"It's been emotional for a lot of people," Fussner said. "It means something to them."
1 Remember those who have fallen: Follow Memorial Day remembrances around the Houston area today and see photo galleries from the events at chron.com.
Fussner, alongside more than 2,000 volunteers, just finished placing small American flags on each of the more than 80,000 graves inside the Houston National Cemetery. Through his organization, Flags For Fallen Vets, the former Marine aims to visit each national cemetery that does not currently place individual flags at grave sites.
Armed with flags and screwdrivers to help break ground, thousands of volunteers assembled for the early morning act of remembrance.
"We have this awesome three-day weekend 'cause someone fought for us," said Avila, 26. "Putting a flag on a grave was a small thing we could do to make a difference."
Natalie Hinkle drove from Navasota to help in the effort.
"This is something that needs to be done," Hinkle said. "This isn't just about backyard barbecues. … It's a time of remembrance."
Last year, Fussner and more than 1,000 volunteers placed flags on about 27,000 graves at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery.
Fussner founded the nonprofit organization alongside friend and Navy veteran James R. Fox. The idea began when Fussner, a regular visitor of the Dallas cemetery on Memorial Day, noticed that since 1999 flags were no longer placed on individual graves.
Fussner said that mass tributes alone were not sufficient.
"That's not my interpretation of honoring the vets," Fussner said. "You honor each individual, not (just) a mass."
Fussner credits his wife, Diane, for the motivation to begin the daunting task.
"I complained about it every year," Fussner said of the missing flags. "She said, 'Look, just do something, will ya?' "
The organization galvanized support via its website, flagsforfallenvets.com. Through donations and sponsorship they were able to obtain volunteers as well as the tens of thousands of flags required for the tribute.
Fussner has loftier goals for 2014. Next year, he plans to take Flags for Fallen Vets to Florida National Cemetery and plant more than 100,000 flags, one at each grave.
"This is a result of a community that realized that this isn't being done, and they're gonna fix it," Fussner said.