South Jordan couple continues patriotic tradition that began 90 years ago

Published: Friday, May 25 2012 5:09 p.m. MDT

Hal Naylor has been placing American flags at veterans' headstones on Memorial Day weekend for five years. There are more than 320 veterans buried in the South Jordan Memorial Park.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SOUTH JORDAN — Hal Naylor knelt down and hammered a hole in the grass before he placed a flag next to the headstone.

"No matter how much you water this, you still got to force it in," he said.

The 78-year-old and his wife, LaRae, placed 322 flags donated by the American Legion on veterans' graves at the South Jordan cemetery Thursday and Friday. It's the continuation of a tradition that began about 90 years ago.

In the 1920s, World War I legionnaire Robert Thomas began placing flags near veterans' graves in the cemetery. In 1945, his son George Thomas took over, putting out flags every Memorial Day and Veterans Day for 62 years until his health made him unable to spend the hours it takes to complete the task.

Hal and LaRae Naylor took over in 2008.

"These guys deserve to be honored," LaRae said, holding a clipboard with names and gravesite locations in one hand, and a bag of flags in another.

At the entrance to the cemetery stands a memorial to veterans. Dedicated in 2002, the monument features a statue of two soldiers and maps showing major battles in every war from the Civil War to the Gulf War.

"Our lives are filled with symbolism," reads the plaque near the monument. "This monument, dedicated to those who served their country, is symbolic of sacrifice. May those who come here find peace, courage and hope."

The Naylors' home borders the cemetery, and every time they notice a new grave being dug, Hal speaks with South Jordan employees to find out if the deceased was a veteran. LaRae enters the names and gravesite location into a document on her computer.

"I'm not computer literate, I'm computer illiterate," she said. "But I can do this."

The Naylors walked up and down the rows of headstones looking for names.

"You'd think after four years we'd have it memorized," LaRae Naylor said.

The couple said they know some of the deceased in the cemetery. Hal Naylor stopped at the grave of Darrell Holt, who died in 2002. Holt served in World War II and was a prisoner of war in Germany who escaped, Hal said. He later served an LDS mission in Germany.

"It seems impossible," LaRae Naylor said about Holt escaping the prisoner of war camp.

Colby Hill, associate director of public works for South Jordan, said the community appreciates the time the Naylors take to put out the flags.

"We're very appreciative of the service and patriotism they provide without fail," he said. "It's something we appreciate and are honored to have him do."

Hill hopes the Naylors will be able to continue their service as long as they are able, but said when they are no longer able, South Jordan will work with the city's historical society to find other volunteers.

As Hal Naylor nails in another flag, three walkers passing through the cemetery shout out to him.

"We were just thinking this looks so beautiful with all these flags," one said.

"We could use some help," Hal responded.

None of the walkers seemed too interested. The Naylors didn't seemed fazed, though.

"We could be here forever," LaRae said.

With a long day ahead of them, the Naylors continued walking through the cemetery with LaRae marking names off her list to make sure every veteran is remembered. All 322 of them.

"We'll just do it as long as our health will let us," Hal Naylor said.

E-mail: hschwarz@desnews.com

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