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Girl Scouts navigate cemetery labyrinth to plant American flags in honor of veterans

In preparation for the Memorial Day holiday on May 28, more than 150 Girl Scouts and family members from the Sun Lakes Council spent a day traversing nearly 200 acres of soggy grass to plant patriotic banners on the graves of veterans buried at Forest Home Cemetery.

After a morning rain on May 19, the young volunteers from Muskego, Big Bend, and Wind Lake honored fourteen hundred veterans.

“Each year we are involved in a service project, and for 2018 it is a military focus, around soldiers and veterans,” said Carmen Jegers, an organizer of the Girl Scout volunteers. “So planting flags at Forest Home Cemetery was one of our activities this year that we chose to participate in.”

Unlike Wood National Cemetery near Miller Park, which was designed exclusively for members of the military, historic Forest Home was founded 171 years ago as a public cemetery. As a result, veterans have been buried alongside parents, children, and family members going back to the Civil War.

Whereas modern and military cemeteries are set on flat land with headstones lined in precision to conserve space, making the ability of planting flags methodical, the grounds of Forest Home have been preserved in their original rolling condition from when it was a hunting ground for the area’s first inhabitants, Native Americans.

As a result, the thousand veteran graves are sprinkled among the tens of thousands of headstones. Aside from two specific areas, there is no general concentration which makes planting flags an annual challenge. Volunteers must navigate maps and look at each headstone for identification symbols that mark veterans.

“Forest Home has really been building a relationship with Girl Scouts of Wisconsin Southeast. They have a couple very famous Girl Scout leaders buried here, like Alice Chester,” added Jegers. “And they do the Girl Scouts tour already with a lot of troops that visit, so this event was a good fit.”

After reading maps, walking cemetery grounds, and placing flags, many of the troops also stopped for a visit at the grave of Alice M. Chester (1893-1972), who founded Girls Scouts in Milwaukee in 1921. Tour guide and historical educator, Anita Pietrykowski, was at Chester’s headstone showing pictures and telling the Scouts about her accomplishments. The girls worked as a team to produce grave rubbings, while troop leaders proudly took photos of the effort to remember the special pilgrimage.

“What an excellent day for the Scouts and their families. Not only did these girls provide an invaluable and special service to the Veterans buried at the Cemetery, but they also made a connection to the woman who is the very foundation of Girl Scouts in Wisconsin,” said Pietrykowski. “I think today’s experience at Forest Home Cemetery embodies the essence of scouting and is one they will long remember.”

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