Placing the flags: Volunteers prep Wood National Cemetery for Memorial Day

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Memorial Day is just a few days away and thousands of people are expected to pay their respects at Wood National Cemetery in Milwaukee.

Memorial Day is a holiday steeped in tradition, which for many of us, includes visiting a cemetery. Thursday morning, May 22nd volunteers took part in a tradition of their own.

In this life we are presented with all kinds of opportunists. Whether we sacrifice the time, is a glimpse into our true colors.

Linda Grus shows red, white, and blue.

"My first duty station was Berlin, Germany," said Grus.

With the Army's help, Gus willingly served her country for four years, and it's under the same self-command that she came to Wood National Cemetery.

"This is not a sad place, this is a very peaceful place to be," said Grus.

Hundreds of volunteers spent the morning planting old glory 34,000 times. Though it's not uncommon to single out just one.

"See how it has a split between, and he is on this side of the split," said Grus. "So this is my dad. A World War Two Korea, two silver stars."

Master Sgt. Gordon Jach lived a full life, met his wife overseas, and raised a family in Wisconsin. He's surrounded by names who signed into the same contract, men and woman who felt a duty to serve the county.

"That's one of the odd things about being in the military, you form a connection with people you would have never met or had any interaction with, and they actually, because of the experiences you share, they become a part of your family," said Grus.

It was their obligation to serve, and now, a daughter's opportunity to remember.

"These were the people called to honor that contract. So, This is an opportunity to thank those who made that sacrifice," said Grus.

A small amount of time to accomplish something simple, even though it means much more.

More than 700 volunteers are planting flags over two days at Wood National Cemetery. The cemetery spans more than 50 acres.

Wood National Cemetery is actually CLOSED to new interments.

The only interments that are being accepted are subsequent interments for veterans or eligible family members in an existing gravesite.

Periodically however, burial space may become available due to a canceled reservation or when a disinterment has been completed.

When either of these two scenarios occurs, the gravesite is made available to another eligible veteran on a first-come, first-served basis.

The cemetery is co-located with the VA Medical Center and the VA Regional Office in Milwaukee.

It is the only cemetery in the National Cemetery Administration that is co-located with both a Veterans Affairs Medical Center and a Veterans Affairs Regional Office.

The cemetery is located on the grounds of a former Soldiers Home that today is called the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center, Milwaukee, Wis.

From 1867 until 1871, the home buried its soldiers in private cemeteries in the Milwaukee area.

In 1871, a cemetery opened on the grounds.

Originally known only as Soldiers Home Cemetery, it wasn’t until 1937 the name was changed to honor Gen. George Wood, a longtime member of the Soldiers’ Home’s Board of Managers.

It became a national cemetery in 1973.

The cemetery is part of the Northwestern Branch-National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers National Historic Landmark district, designated on June 6, 2011.

The 60-foot-tall granite Civil War Soldiers and Sailors monument was erected in 1903 when the cemetery was part of the Northwest Branch Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.

The monument was sponsored by the Soldiers and Sailors Association and was sculpted by Joseph Shaver Granite and Marble Co. of Milwaukee.

A memorial pathway is lined with a variety of memorials that honor America’s veterans.

As of 2003, there were seven memorials along there —most commemorating soldiers of 20th-century wars.

Notable persons buried at Wood National Cemetery include:

  • Ordinary Seaman James K. Duncan (Civil War), U. S. Navy, USS Fort Hindman. Harrisonburg, La., April 16, 1864 (Section 19, Grave 41).
  • Private Milton Matthews (Civil War), U.S. Army, Company C, 61st Pennsylvania Infantry. Petersburg, Va., April 2, 1865 (Section 11, Grave 61).
  • Corporal Winthrop D. Putnam (Civil War), U.S. Army, Company A, 77th, Illinois Infantry. Vicksburg, Miss., May 22, 1863 (Section 16, Grave 109).
  • Private Lewis A. Rounds (Civil War), U.S. Army, Company D, 8th Ohio Infantry. Spotsylvania, Va., May 12, 1864 (Section 20, Grave 256).
  • Boatswain’s Mate Michael McCormick (Civil War), U.S. Navy, USS Signal. Red River, May 19, 1865 (Section MA, Grave 10A).