Veterans honored on Independence Day

Derrickk Torgerson places a flag on a veteran’s grave at Cordova Cemetery on July 4, 2019. Torgerson places flags at the cemetery each year on Independence Day. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

In past years, the July 4 flag-raising at Cordova Cemetery has drawn a crowd. However, in 2019, there were just five people on hand to post flags on the graves of veterans and for the flag raising ceremony.

“Every recognition day, we try to get down here and memorialize those who gave us this opportunity to live in a free world,” said Clyde Torgerson, former head of the Cordova branch of Veterans of Foreign Wars. “We usually have a decent crowd. I don’t know if the word didn’t get out or what. But we shouldn’t have to put the word out.”

Clyde Torgerson, former head of the Cordova branch of Veterans of Foreign Wars, places a flag at Cordova Cemetery, a July 4 tradition he shares with his son, Derrickk on every Independence Day. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Surrounded by clouds of insects, Torgerson, his son Derrickk and Derrickk’s wife Laura picked their way carefully through the cemetery, hunting for the graves of veterans and posting a small American flag beside each one. In Cordova Cemetery, granite headstones displaying laser-etched leaping salmon jostle alongside rustic, whitewashed Russian crosses, and it’s not always easy to tell which of the moss-eaten monuments belongs to a veteran.

Derrickk Torgerson has accompanied his father to the cemetery every Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day and Independence Day since Clyde became leader of the Cordova VFW a decade ago. At first, Derrickk was simply lending his father a hand, but he now looks forward to the visits.

From left, Jacob Ranney, Wendy Ranney and Laura Torgerson raise the American flag over Cordova Cemetery on July 4, 2019. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Wendy Ranney, who attended the flag-raising with her 13-year-old son Jacob, believes that the key to revitalizing ceremonies like these is youth education. As it stands, youth are often absent from events like these, Wendy Ranney said.

“I don’t know a single one of my friends that has ever talked about this,” Jacob Ranney said. “I don’t think a lot of them even know that it’s going on. I know that a lot of people my age probably don’t care, but there’s also a section of people who do care but don’t know how or when to do anything about it.”

Wendy Ranney and her son Jacob tell Ampy Bellinger, right, about the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization. On July 4, 2019, the Ranneys manned a fundraising table for the VFW. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Scheduling the flag-raising at 8 a.m. may have been enough to dissuade many teenagers, who, naturally, enjoy sleeping in during summer break, Jacob Ranney said. The VFW fundraising table the Ranneys manned during the afternoon drew robust interest from passersby. However, getting boots on the ground for out-of-the-way events like flag-raisings is more difficult, Wendy Ranney points out.

“I don’t think it’s corny,” Jacob Ranney said. “More young people should recognize everything veterans have done.”

Flags fly on veterans’ graves in Cordova Cemetery on July 4, 2019. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times