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'Remember the forgotten'

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SALUTE: Huntington veteran Gary Miller salutes the gravesite ofa Civil War veteran who died at a young age.
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FLAG: Millerplaces a flag in one of the oldest sections of the cemetery, where broken tombstones are scatteredand often broken. He looks for old veterans who may not have relatives who still visit the cemetery.
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GRAVE: A newly placed flag stands next to George G. Pride’s grave. Civil War Veterans often have uniform headstones with a crest on them, engraved with battles they fought in, Miller said.

by Andrew Maciejewski

amaciejewski@h-ponline.com

Every year, millions congregate at lakes, pools and cookouts as people get their first chance to enjoy a glimpse of summer on Memorial Day weekend.

People don red, white and blue in honor of their country and those who died defending their freedom. But, some go further, taking a break from fun to bring flowers and flags on their annual journey to decorate loved ones' graves.

More than 2,000 flags lined cemeteries across Huntington County, Thursday, ready for relatives to take and place next to veteran’s graves over the weekend. Caretakers mowed the lawn at Mt. Hope Cemetery, preparing for visitors to arrive on its hills.

But, one veteran was searching for strangers. He spent his day clearing grass clippings from headstones, reading dates and looking for veterans who died long ago and might not have visitors on Memorial Day.

Navy veteran Gary Miller makes his way through the cemetery each year, making sure no veteran is forgotten.

“I just say, ‘remember the forgotten,’ Miller said. “That’s what I do because if it wasn’t for them, what would we do now? I remember the forgotten because people forget about them, and they shouldn’t.”

Miller looks for military issued plaques to spot veterans. He stopped briefly at a grave with wilted flowers and flag holders.

“See, he just died in 2014,” Miller said. “I know he’s got relatives. But, I look for older, older ones.”

He seeks out sites in the corner of the cemetery, where weathered tombstones lay broken and nameless.

“I found one, but it’s a little walk over the hillside.”

Once on the perimeter of the grounds, he pointed to a generic looking stone with a crest that read, “George G. Pride,” who was a Colonel and a member of Ulysses S. Grant’s staff, according to the tombstone and Huntington Herald reports.

“Now here’s the one I wanted to show you. Look at the dates on this one here. See when they died,” Miller said. “See when he was born? 1826. See when he died? 1906. Who’s gonna bring him a flag?”

He also looks to see if they died when they were maybe too young to start a family. He’ll check to see if anything indicates that they were from out of town or buried without other relatives nearby.

“I look for something like this where I know nobody’s gonna be bringing them a flag, so I give them one,” Miller said.

Once he’s determined that no one is likely to stop by, he sticks the flag about a foot away from the ground, making sure everything is proper.

“I’ll put it here, on the edge,” he said, asking, “Does that look straight to you?”

After he cleans up the grave, he stands tall and salutes the grave for about 5 seconds before making his way to the next grave.

Miller placed around 50 flags this year. His ritual began when he enlisted in the Navy upon graduating high school. Miller served 17 years in active duty and reserves for the Navy before serving six years with the Air Force reserves.

While he was stationed in Boston, he would walk around the town and take the subway away from the shipyard.

He found himself exploring old cemeteries and reading about war history, which is something he’d never paid much attention to in high school.

“On Tremont Street and some other places, they had these cemeteries, and they would go way back,” Miller said.

He saw former President Samuel Adam’s grave and he became fascinated by the significance of America’s history.

Just recently, Miller graduated from Ivy Tech in Fort Wayne with a degree in history. He wrote a paper on Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and he enjoys learning about everything in the past.

“I’ve done US history, world history, world politics, art history, music history,” Miller said. “If it says history, I do it. I don’t care what it is.”

Now, he uses his knowledge of past wars to find veterans who might not have someone to place a flag next to their grave. And each year, he makes his rounds, doing his part to ensure Huntington County veterans get recognized.

Even when he runs out of flags, he finds a way to make sure their graves are not forgotten.