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Veterans enjoy Flag Day at Kew Gardens Cemetery

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The Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens became a sea of American flags Monday as nearly 150 Queens veterans, residents and students lifted what they called a symbol of freedom and unity that should remind everyone of the sacrifices soldiers have made for the country.

“The flag means a whole lot to guys like me, who at age 17 went into the service,” Staff Sgt. Lester Muse Jr., of Jamaica, said at the Flag Day celebration. “I went to Vietnam three times because of this flag.”

The Maple Grove Cemetery Association event included keynote speeches by Purple Heart recipients Muse and Lt. Col. Paul Schottenhamel, of Douglaston; performances by the Francis Lewis High School Junior ROTC; and speeches by a number of Maple Grove Cemetery representatives and area historians.

Flag Day, officially observed June 14 nationwide, celebrates the adoption of the U.S. flag, which happened that day with a resolution by the Second Continental Congress in 1777. President Woodrow Wilson officially established June 14 as Flag Day in 1916, and President Harry Truman signed an act of Congress establishing National Flag Day in 1949.

“What emotions does the flag evoke?” asked Bonnie Thompson Dixon, executive vice president of the Maple Grove Cemetery Association. “How about when you go to a Mets or Yankees game when everyone’s on their feet? Or who remembers after the tragedy of Sept. 11 everyone was displaying the flag? We as a nation wanted to reassure each other we were one nation who valued their freedom. How about a flag draped over the coffins of soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom?”

Jeff Gottlieb, president of the Central Queens Historical Association, spoke of the two Civil War soldiers honored during Monday’s ceremony, Edward Wright and George Corliss, both of whom received the Congressional Medal of Honor and who are buried at Maple Grove.

Wright was awarded the medal after he helped to take New Orleans for the North during a battle in April 1862. Wright led a boat during the attack that was rained on by cannon balls and “rammed” by other ships 37 times, Gottlieb said.

In 1862, Corliss seized a flag that had been carried by a man who had been killed, and carried it forward in the face of a severe battle during which he was shot and permanently disabled.

“This day, Flag Day, is a time to celebrate a country that gives us men like George Corliss,” Schottenhamel said. “The sight of the flag waving in the wind means something special.”

Students from Holy Child Jesus School in Richmond Hill and PS 99 in Kew Gardens also attended the event.

“We really liked the ceremony,” said Julia Suarez, a seventh-grade student at Holy Child Jesus. “I liked how everybody talked about the history. It was really interesting.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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