This week marks Decoration Day, an often overlooked military holiday that celebrates those who served but have now passed away.
Each year, members of the Thorold Legion Branch 17 go to Lakeview Cemetery to decorate every grave that belongs to someone who served.
“There’s roughly 562 graves,” Legion member Denis Egoroff tells ThoroldToday. “It usually takes a week, depending on the help.”
Egoroff has been decorating the graves for close to 20 years, together with Legion members Jerry Fleming and John Crowe. 84-year-old Crowe started decorating the graves back in the early sixties.
“Somebody had to take on the job and I knew the fella who did it well so I took over for him,” he says.
And so the men have been making sure that those who fought will never be forgotten.
“We were out here in rain, shine, wind, rubber boots, mosquito repellent,” laughs Egoroff. “We never missed a year.”
To know which graves to decorate, the men rely on a folder with maps of the cemetery plots.
“When you know where to start it’s easy,” explains Egoroff. “Most of the World War I vets are hard to find. They’re in the ground, grown over, sunk, some are missing stones.”
Decorating the graves is a surefire trip down memory lane for Egoroff.
“You find a lot of people that you’ve forgotten about,” he says. “All the people and the kids I grew up with. I knew nearly every one of their fathers and what they did for a living. It’s amazing.”
The men all say that Decoration Day feels very personal to them.
“Nearly all of my family and my wife’s family served and came back,” Egoroff says. “They were lucky so I got a lot to be thankful for.”
That sentiment is echoed by Thorold Legion President Eric Cuthbert.
“If you remember the poem ‘In Flanders Fields,’ it mentions the torch: ‘Do not drop it, lest you break faith,’” Cuthbert says. “We’re making sure the torch isn’t dropped. It has been passed to us and we’re holding it high.”
Still, a lot of Legion branches are finding it difficult to recruit new members these days.
“A lot of the newer veterans, it seems they just want to leave all of that behind them,” says Cuthbert. “Some do join but it’s not the numbers as when it was formed.”
“It seems that the memory of those who have served is diminishing,” adds Egoroff.
The men who decorate the graves have all been getting older, so Legion members Ken and Jeannie Smalko have decided to take over decorating duties going forward, but Egoroff says he’s still sticking around.
“I already told them I’m coming,” he says.
Now that all the graves have been decorated, the Thorold Legion is all set to celebrate Decoration Day on Sunday.
Members of the Legion will meet at their headquarters on Ormond Street, at 1 p.m. on Sunday, when they will march to Battle of Beaverdams Park.
“The US Legion is coming over because they have an unnamed soldier grave there,” explains Cuthbert. “We’re going to lay a wreath. Then we’re going to march down to Memorial Park where we usually are and do our regular service around 2 p.m.”
Everyone in Thorold is invited to join, ‘Lest we forget.’