If you happen to visit the Rock Island National Cemetery on Arsenal Island this Memorial Day weekend — or any time this summer — be sure to notice the flowers.

While the grass is mowed by staff of the cemetery office, a division of the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the flowers are planted and tended by a small group of volunteers organized in 1998 as the Friends of the Rock Island National Cemetery.

The group is down to about eight members, and most are in their 70s, but they are dedicated to their task.

Efforts are concentrated at the two shelters where graveside services are held, at the columbarium (a storage place for cremains), the memorial garden and the Gold Star, Red Star and Purple Heart gardens, president Gary Cameron, said.

The Gold Star, planted with yellow marigolds, honors families whose loved one died, he explained. The Red Star, planted with red tulips, salvia and petunias, honors those whose loved one is currently serving; and the Purple Heart, planted with purple petunias, is for those whose loved ones received the medal for an injury.

The group relies entirely on donations, with receipts this year from the Silvis Garden Club and the Moline Horticultural Society. One chore the group doesn't have to worry about is watering, as there are in-ground sprinklers in the beds.

Group members work in partnership with Sue Jehlen, cemetery director. "We bounce ideas off each other. She tells us things that they'd like us to do," Cameron said.

The cemetery contains 53 acres in which people are buried, with 13.5 acres that remain open, Jehlen said. It is one of 135 national cemeteries nationwide and employs 12 people.

If you are interested in Memorial Day services, they will begin at 4 p.m. on Thursday with the placement of flags on graves. National cemetery ceremonies will be at 10:45 a.m. Monday, May 29, and Confederate Cemetery ceremonies will follow at noon.

And if you'd like to help out with the flowers, call Cameron at 309-781-2789. "We're looking for new people, volunteers, groups or organizations," said Cameron.

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