ROCKINGHAM — With two-dozen extra pairs of hands, the work went quickly. By mid-morning, American flags dotted the landscape at Richmond Memorial Park.
Volunteers placed about 700 flags at veterans’ gravesites in a Memorial Day tribute Monday morning, marking the 26th year that Disabled American Veterans leader Jimmy Brigman of Hamlet organized the annual gesture of gratitude.
About 22 juniors and seniors from Temple Christian School took part in the tradition. Though planting the flags took just under an hour, Brigman believes the act of honoring Richmond County’s fallen veterans is an experience they will always remember.
“You can put it in your book, your diary,” Brigman said, “and when you get old, you can say, ‘I put flags on the graves of the men and women who served this country.’”
The yearly custom began at Richmond Memorial but, with the help of veterans’ groups, volunteers and donors, has spread to Eastside, Mary Love, Smith and Hopewell cemeteries. Teams fanned out across Richmond County and placed an estimated 5,000 flags on veterans’ graves.
“People have been so good to help me out,” Brigman said. “I’ve been doing this for 26 years. I’m getting old now. I just thank the Lord that he’s spared me to do it for so many years.”
Wounded in both World War II and Korea, Brigman retired from the U.S. Army as a master sergeant after serving for 23 years, 8 months. He earned two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star, honors he mentions with modesty.
“I’m not bragging at all,” Brigman said. “The Lord, he brought me home.”
Brigman remained active with Richmond County veterans’ groups including the DAV, but the Memorial Day mission began as a personal tribute after he noticed that the custom of placing flags on veterans’ graves wasn’t widely observed here.
“It’s a disgrace that Americans send millions to a foreign country and can’t buy flags for the men and women who served this country,” he said.
Counting just a handful of flags and more than 100 veterans’ gravesites at Richmond Memorial Park one year, Brigman decided to honor his fallen comrades each Memorial Day.
Each year, Brigman bought more flags in an effort to recognize more veterans. When the expense became too great, he started a flag fund and accepted contributions from local businesses, civic groups and families.
This year, Richmond County raised $3,680 and fielded dozens of volunteers to help Brigman honor those who served.
“It means a lot to me,” Brigman said. “I’m proud of the county. I’m proud of the people. I love them and I pray for them.”
Robert Oates and his family drove 150 miles from the eastern North Carolina city of Goldsboro to help Brigman stake the miniature flags into the ground. When Oates lived in Richmond County, he would meet Brigman for breakfast at Hardee’s and listen to his stories of battle and brotherhood.
“I just come out here because I think the world of Mr. Jimmy,” Oates said. “He’s done this for a long time. He’s been through a lot in his life and he’s a super guy. I love him to death.”
Reach Editor Corey Friedman at 910-817-2670 and follow him on Twitter @RCDailyJournal.