GROVE0-In the past 12 years, Paul Green solemnly has removed an untold number of American flags from the caskets of veterans and gingerly handed the symbols of sacrifice to grieving families.
Now the 83-year-old World War II veteran worries that final patriotic act may be cast aside, as older war veterans are dying at a rapid rate and younger ones are not as likely to join veterans organizations.
The Grove Veterans Ritual Team, a 20-year-old organization dedicated to honoring all veterans, once had 30 members from the Grove and Grand Lake area. Today it has about 20 members, Green said.
"We are a group of people really dedicated to providing a service to our veterans,” Green said. "But we need more people to help.”Green, a member since 1998, said the organization is not affiliated with any military group.
The men provide a military-based ceremony free to the family of any veteran, he said. The ceremony includes reading a tribute to the deceased veteran, prayer, firing of the rifles, playing "Taps” and a presentation of the flag to the family. Most families offer a donation to defray costs, he said.
The oldest member is 86, he said.
The ritual team performs 50 to 80 ceremonies a year in a 70-mile radius around Grove. This year they already have performed about 50 ceremonies, he said.
"We are trying to recruit more members,” Green said. "I personally have made an appeal at my church.”
He said he plans to make additional appeals to area civic groups and churches.
Before this Memorial Day weekend, the group set out 200 American flags at two Grove cemeteries.
"We call it the 'Avenue of Flags,'” Green said. "The flags line the road into the cemetery.”
Today, the group will provide a special ceremony at the Grove Community Center near the war memorial, Green said.
Green served in the Army infantry and was stationed in France and Germany. After his military tour was completed he spent 30 years with the National Guard as a full-time technician.