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Volunteers turn out en masse for Memorial Day ceremony at vandalized cemetery

GLEN CARBON, Ill. – Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons said charges could be filed as early as Tuesday against a man suspected of desecrating headstones with graffiti at a Glen Carbon cemetery.

Meanwhile, the weekend’s act of vandalism at Sunset Hills Cemetery ultimately brought out the best of the Glen Carbon community on this Memorial Day, as volunteers from the area participated in a special ceremony that’s been happening here for more than a quarter of a century.

As the sun rose Monday, volunteers fanned out across Sunset Hill Cemetery, decorating the grounds with more than 1,300 flags to honor people who served in the military, many of them gave their lives for our country. Some of the volunteers were military members.

“I think it’s awesome seeing everyone out here together putting up the flags, just making friends with everyone for a common purpose,” said Sarah Smith, a soldier in the US Army.

Bob Herr initiated the event. He said usually about 75 citizens help put the flags in the place. On Monday more than 175 volunteers showed up. The sight brought tears of joy to his eyes.

“This morning when I came in it was hard to stop crying because I looked at all the cars and all the people who wanted to help,” Herr said.

Herr said he believes people were determined to take part after more than 200 gravestones were marked with swastikas by a vandal just days earlier. Workers and their families immediately began cleaning the markers and had almost everything done by the end of the day.

“Adversity brings out the best in people,” said Ryan Zinke, the cemetery manager. “It really showed this weekend. People care about each other in this community. It was so overwhelmingly positive to see that.”

Everything was back to normal in time for Monday’s special noon-time ceremony. In song and prayer, veterans were saluted, including Airman Bradley Smith, who was killed in Afghanistan 8 years ago. He left behind a wife, a baby girl his parents, as well as family and friends who dearly loved him.

“I just want people to think about the freedoms they have today, freedoms they have in America that other countries don’t have,” said Paula Smith, Bradley’s mother.

A tragedy was turned into triumph on a day when we remember those who keep our country free every moment of every day.