BY ALEX WILLIAMSON
In recognition of Memorial Day, dozens of young people gathered at Green-Wood Cemetery Saturday morning to place flags on the graves of 285 World War I veterans. The volunteers came from Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops across Brooklyn, and were led by Jeff Richman, Green-Wood’s resident historian.
After brief remarks from Richman highlighting a few of the vets whose graves would be decorated, the kids broke into small groups and set off across the cemetery with maps, lists of names and small American flags.
“The good news is we did 3,000 flags in 2007 for Civil War veterans, and we got that done,” Richman told the crowd. “We’re doing a little under 300 today, so this should be no problem.”
Richman and a group of volunteers began searching historical records in 2017 to identify WWI vets buried at Green-Wood ahead of the 100-year anniversary of Armistice Day. They located 285 graves, and have published detailed biographies of each WWI veteran on the cemetery’s website.
Richman estimates there are at least 10,000 veterans buried at the cemetery, and that around 5,000 of those interred fought in the Civil War.
Phillip Lehpamer, a former insurance actuary who has volunteered with the cemetery for 20 years and previously helped to identify its Civil War graves, says Green-Wood’s extensive archives are a wellspring of historical and genealogical data.
“The amount of material on historic New York is absolutely amazing. If you have a passion for history or New York City, this is the best place,” Lehpamer said.
Even with extensive records, actually locating a grave among the roughly 600,000 in the 478-acre cemetery isn’t always easy, given that many of the older tombstones are illegible, or long ago sank into the ground.
Scout Leader Joselyn Aviles scanned the provided maps with her two sons and her niece on Saturday morning, wandering up and down rows of weathered tombstones and searching for the names on her list.
Though locating some of the graves was tricky, Aviles said she was glad they came.
“Everybody always barbecues and hangs out, but this way the kids get to really see what this is all about,” said Aviles. “They can actually see the tombs of people and get an understanding of the contributions people made to our country.”