"Find the cost of freedom, buried in the ground." Stephen Stills
A squadron of patriotic women marched into ten rural cemeteries the past two weeks to pay their respects to veterans of American wars.
For the last five years, local members of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) have a tradition of placing flags at each grave of a veteran, and removing the old one.
"We chose to cover rural cemeteries because people tend to forget them," said June Head, a DAR member and event organizer. "We pull up the old flags and replace them. And we're always researching to find graves we've missed."
DAR members have a blood lineage to Revolutionary War veterans, but there are none buried in the American Southwest because it was still part of Spain in the late 18th century.
However, when settlers arrived here in the 1880s, many of them were veterans of the Civil War. Local veteran groups have documented 168 Civil War veterans buried in the area.
George May was one of them. Born in 1838, he went on to serve in the Civil War in the early 1860s in the infantry. He survived, and later arrived at Big Bend near present-day Dolores to work for the cattle industry, passing away in 1918, Head explained.
Where he was buried was a mystery for decades. Then, during a visit to a remote corner of the Old Dolores cemetery, an astute observer noticed "G. May" prominently carved into a sandstone outcropping. Now aged with decorative lichen, the original memorial is still clearly visible today.
"It was arranged for a military headstone to also mark the grave," Head said. "The Mays were a prominent family."
Nearby May Canyon is likely a tribute to the family.
Veterans from the Civil War, both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, The Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan are all buried in area cemeteries.
A soldier from the Spanish-American War is also not forgotten, and receives a flag every Memorial day at his final resting place near Arriola.
"We've got four different groups totaling 15 volunteers going every direction," says Daisy Mahaffey while checking her list at the Sunnyside Cemetery in Lewis. "We don't feel the veterans get enough recognition, so we are doing our part."
Some of the other cemeteries decorated with flags include Cedar Grove, Old Weber, Mormon, Lebanon, Pleasant View, Yellow Jacket, Goodman Point, Battle Rock, Lamb, and Lavender in Disappointment Valley.
"At Lebanon, 50 percent of the graves are of veterans, and Lamb is reached by a quarter-mile walk through the cactus," Head said.
Since they began tracking down forgotten veteran graves in 2009, the local DAR has rediscovered 36 graves and marked them with veteran flags or plaques.
"Every time we see that a veteran passed on in the newspaper, we write it down and add it to the list," Mahaffey said. "We think there are more out there."
About 300 flags were placed this year at the rural cemeteries.
"It's the least we can do to honor the memory and commitment of veterans to protect our freedoms," said DAR member Pam Thompson as she placed flags in the Sunnyside cemetery.
The old flags, no matter their condition, are collected and then destroyed by the Cortez American Legion based on proper protocols, explained John Shriner, a member of the Legion Honor Guard and former commander.
"We hold a ceremony where we cut each flag and render them unserviceable," he said. "Then we play Taps and burn the flags one at a time in a safe location. It is a powerful ceremony and a respectful retirement for the flags."