RAMSEY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — For many families Memorial Day weekend means the beach and barbecues, but a group of eighth graders are trying to help people remember what the solemn holiday is really about.
Students at Eric S. Smith Middle School planted a flag for each American killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. That’s nearly 7,000 flags. The students are hoping the field will remind young people what the holiday really means.
“They may not understand the cost of war,” Michael Laino said, “They have to understand that these flags are not just flags. They represent someone who fought in war, and gave up their lives for us.”
Each flag was planted with great care.
“It kind of felt like I was that person, that family member who had to see the gravestone, putting like a flower down to their grave. It’s a dark, sad feeling,” Max Nokes said.
The class came up with the idea after a school trip to Washington D.C. and learning about another New Jersey school’s field of flags.
At Arlington National Cemetery they planted flags around one of their own, Corporal Michael Jankiewicz – killed in Afghanistan in 2010. He was just 23-years-old, and had graduated from their middle school.
“This person sacrificed their life and they lived so close to where you are, like walked the same halls that you did,” Brandan Bussiere said.
The sacrifice made the Jankiewicz family a gold star family, meaning they lost a loved one in service to the country.
Mothers from three of Ramsey’s gold star mothers will plant flags in the field in memory of their sons.
“I do see these flags and it shows that there are still signs of hope and peace for this country and each flag shows there’s a sacrifice,” Nokes said.
On Wednesday, at the field of flags, taps will be played at a special ceremony the students have planned for the whole community including Gold Star families.