Retired Gunnery Sgt. Billy Owens understands the meaning of Memorial Day better than most.
He’s lived it.
The Owasso resident served three stints in the Vietnam War, the first coming in 1962 with his final deployment eight years later. In between his last two stints, Owens’ job was recruiting duty for the U.S. Marine Corps in Minnesota.
“I’d recruit them and tell their mother and dads if they’re passed away or wounded, then I’d bury them,” Owens said Wednesday afternoon as he looked out over the graves at Fairview Cemetery. “So it gets me when I see them out there because I know what I had to do. It was my job.”
As part of Owasso VFW Post 7180, Owens has been putting American flags on the graves of veterans for the past 10 years.
“It really makes me feel good, to honor those boys that are laying out here, most of them and the one’s that are still alive,” Owens said. “I’ve been doing it a long time and always get a good feeling when I do it. And I hope it don’t stop.”
Between Clearview, Graceland Memorial Park and Ridgelawn cemeteries, the Post planted approximately 500 flags prior to the weekend designed for remembering America’s fallen heroes. And that count doesn’t include the number of flags that line the driveways and perimeter of each cemetery, an added touch the Post added a few years back.
It’s an exercise members of the Post will repeat in November to commemorate Veteran’s Day. The organization’s flag planting days date back to around the time the Post became chartered in 1986.
“We try to get it out here rain or shine,” said former Owasso VFW commander Carroll Harris.
The Post used to rely on a hand-written diagram to determine where each flag was to be placed. That was until the City of Owasso began keeping a digital account of where each veteran’s grave was located.
Current commander Arden Wilkinson said planting the flags is a small measure the Post can show its admiration for those who served before and alongside them.
“It’s an honor for us to be out here to do this and show our respect for them,” Wilkinson said.