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Tradition of service

A group of Scenic Middle School students transformed the landscape at Eagle Point National Cemetery Friday, turning the green lawns and rows of gravestones into a sea of red, white and blue.

The 180 or so participants from the Central Point school placed U.S. flags at approximately 21,000 graves in preparation for the facility's Memorial Day service, which starts at 11 a.m. Monday, May 29.

"It's just a select few students from just one school who come out and are able to accomplish so much in the course of just a couple of hours," 14-year-old Ashley Chenoweth said. "It's really, honestly special that we can just come out here."

The tradition started in the late '90s under former Scenic principal Bob Bowers, said Principal Brad Eaton. It's been an annual stop for students and teachers ever since.

"It's a big honor for our school," Eaton said. "It's a big weekend. There are lots of visitors here. I think it's great for our kids to get the sense of service. It's a pretty neat spectacle when all these flags are out. We get here and it starts with nothing, and by the end, it's a beautiful sight, seeing all these flags on these graves."

Abe Hull, 14, agreed with Eaton on the end result.

"It's pretty cool," Hull said. "They're all in rows, and every grave has a flag."

New participating students have to write an essay explaining why they wanted to participate.

"Our sixth-graders, a lot of them have family members here, and they said, 'I've been in families that have served, we're very patriotic, we know what it's like to have somebody serving the country, and I really, really want to be there to show respect to the hundreds and thousands of other people who have done the same," said seventh-grade teacher Ellie Smith.

Those who made the trip said they felt proud to be included in the tradition.

"It means a lot to me. I really feel kind of honored," said 13-year-old Eleanor Andries.

"It's kind of a cool experience just to come here and look at all the graves and look at the names of those who served," said 14-year-old Ashton Idiart.

And by the project's end, there's an obvious visual result — nearly 21,000 flags waving in the breeze.

"I come back afterward and just look at everything and just take it all in," said school counselor Michelle Grush. "Just the quietness. It's really a wonderful opportunity for our kids."

— Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

Scenic Middle School eighth-grader Taryn Dance places flags on graves Friday at Eagle Point National Cemetery. [Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta]