U.S. Army veteran Jack MacLeod was joined by two little girls as they had the honor of replacing a pair of U.S. flags at a very special grave in Elmwood Cemetery last month.

MacLeod’s father and stepfather both served during World War II in the Army and Navy, respectively. For proud veteran MacLeod, this small act of service is a way to pass on respect of country – a moment he shared with Sadie Kern, 9, and Samantha O’Leary, 8.

They were among nearly 400 volunteers who participated in the Veterans Department’s annual flag-replacement event. Residents, students, family, friends, first responders and city leaders gathered at Elmwood Cemetery the weekend before Memorial Day for a small ceremony, then replaced 5,000 flags on veterans’ graves at the city’s 10 cemeteries.

Under the leadership of Methuen’s Veterans Services Officer Paul Jensen, student leaders from Methuen High School’s JROTC program and Greater Lawrence Technical School organized the annual Veterans Flag Replacement Ceremony for the city.

MHS JROTC senior Brian Congo addressed the volunteers.

“I want to thank you all for showing up today. This really means a lot to families of Methuen who have lost family in any war that has been fought,” he said. “It also means a lot to just the community in general, even if you haven’t lost someone. It shows strong community support by everyone here.”

Volunteer Ashley Sheehan, who spends her days as executive director of the Methuen Senior Activity Center, was eager to lend a hand, saying, “I’m here to support the students and veterans, and get involved in these special events.”

Jensen, of the Veterans Office, told MethuenLife, “This event is unique in the Commonwealth in that it is a student-led event. Instead of kids coming out and working with adults, the adults work for the kids in replacing the flags. It is a great opportunity for our kids to have some leadership experience in organizing, planning and executing the event and they have never let us down.

He added, “This group of students is especially impressive.”

Organizers were MHS JROTC students Brian Congo, Olivia Murphy, Eleanor Murphy, Jakob Traynor, Amir Samour and Matthew Mrabu, along with GLTS student leaders Mia Coplin and Ashley Cruz.

“Officer” Mike Simard took command of his “1844 Field Army Band” which were students from teacher Beth Cunha’s second-grade class at St. Monica’s School. They sang “God Bless the USA” and the anthems from each branch of the service and closed with “Thank You, Soldiers.” The students came forward in between rows of veterans, Methuen police and firefighters who lined up for them. 

The national anthem was gracefully sung by Jensen’s childhood friend Todd Edmonds.

The ceremony commenced with everyone joining their JROTC group leaders. Volunteers placed new flags on the graves while others boxed up the old flags which will be properly disposed of on Flag Day.

Volunteers enjoyed Ellie’s Farmhouse breakfast sandwiches, Heav’nly Donuts coffee and doughnut, and water from Shaw’s – all of which were donated.