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Low Key Memorial Day Focuses On Remembrance
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Commander Curtis Vaughn of the Escalon American Legion Gustafson Thompson Post 263 and his grandson, Donovan Vaughn, 9, work to place flags on the graves of veterans at Burwood Cemetery on Saturday morning, May 23. Most of the gravesites already had them; a group of Post members did a walk through to make sure each veteran grave was marked. Marg Jackson/The Times

Flags were flying, but there were no official Memorial Day ceremonies this year.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellation of services in most locations, Escalon among them. The members of the Escalon American Legion Post 263 typically put on four short ceremonies at different locations, including Burwood Cemetery on River Road, St. John’s Cemetery adjacent to St. Patrick’s Church at Highway 120 and Carrolton Road, at the Farmington Cemetery along Escalon-Bellota Road and at Valley Home Memorial Park.

While those events went by the wayside, a small group of Legion and American Legion Riders members were on hand at Burwood Cemetery on Saturday morning, May 23. The goal was to make sure that each grave marking the final resting place of a veteran had an American flag placed on it.

Post Commander Curtis Vaughn said the grounds crew at Burwood puts out about 800 flags during the week, the post members then do a walk through on Saturday to make sure all the veterans have received a flag. There are sometimes a few that are missed, especially if the grave does not indicate the person was a veteran. Working off a list, the post members make sure the flags are placed there in time for families to visit the cemetery on Memorial Day.

Meeting up to do the walk through, working in different quadrants of the ceremony, were Al Bellinger, John Blowers, Casey Den Ouden and Vaughn, with assistance from his grandson, nine-year-old Donovan Vaughn, a member of Riverbank Scout Pack 10 and a student at Riverbank Language Academy.

“Vinnie (Post member Vince Giovaniello) delivers the flags to Burwood during the week and the groundskeepers set them out,” Den Ouden explained. “Then we come and do the walk though, I had 37 names to check on.”

They want to make sure to recognize every veteran, he said, and one of those on his list was the father of Escalon Mayor Robert Swift, who served in the Army but did not have that fact indicated on the headstone. Den Ouden was able to find the grave and place the flag; a fact that Swift said he and his mother appreciated, as they visited the cemetery over the holiday weekend.

Swift’s father, also named Robert, served in the Army from 1957 to 1961.

“It really meant a lot to see the flag there,” Swift said.

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Though there was no Memorial Day service at Burwood Cemetery on Monday, May 25 the flags were flying in the breeze along the entrance road and also were placed on the graves of veterans. Marg Jackson/The Times