Emma Gayle Landrum, clad in a green vest covered in Girl Scout patches, knelt beside the plot lined with miniature American flags and laid a wreath on the veteran’s grave. The 10-year-old read the name on the marker — Donald S. McFarland Jr. — and thanked him for his service.
“I just feel honored to do this. I feel honored that I was able to help Mr. McFarland and be here for him. He is my veteran,” Landrum said.
For 17 years and four months, the World War II and Korean War veteran laid in Decatur’s Roselawn Cemetery with no marker — military nor personal. Now, thanks to Landrum, a stone recognizes McFarland’s life and service.
“It makes me sad when I think that he was here with nothing at all. You couldn’t tell anyone was buried here. It just looked like grass,” said Landrum, who participated in the Wreaths Across America ceremony Saturday at Roselawn Cemetery. “It makes me sad to think about all the other veterans here that don’t have a marker. That is going to change.”
Taught by the Girl Scouts to be “honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong,” Landrum, now in her fourth year in Girl Scouts, made securing markers for veterans buried at Roselawn Cemetery her mission.
The fifth grader at Priceville Junior High School learned about the unmarked graves while volunteering with her Girl Scout troop during last year’s Wreaths Across America. On the drive home, Landrum asked her mother and father questions. What does “unmarked” mean? Why don’t they have markers? What can we do?
“I thought it was just wrong that the veterans didn’t have anything,” she said. “I didn’t like that they weren’t being honored. I feel they need to be honored. They served our country. We need to remember them.”
Motivated to make a difference, the young Girl Scout decided to raise money for McFarland’s marker as her bronze project, the first step to the gold award, which is equal to the Boy Scout’s Eagle rank. To earn a bronze award, the service and leadership organization encourages girls to identify a local issue, create a plan to address that issue and educate and inspire others to take action.
To raise money to set the memorial plaque, which cost $335, Emma Gayle Landrum made necklaces and bracelets. Using a hammer and letter stamps, she punched words, such as “faith,” “hope,” “love” and “warrior,” into brass tokens.
“She was so committed to this that she was ready to pull out of her personal savings to do enough for two markers. I had to remind her that the whole point of the bronze project, though, is not to pay for it, but to earn it,” said Landrum’s mother Crystal Landrum.
By selling all 50 of the bracelets and necklaces, Landrum earned enough money to buy a marker for McFarland and 10 temporary bronze veteran markers to place at other unmarked graves.
“Every veteran that we knew of here has at least something. That makes me happy. That makes me feel good,” Emma Gayle Landrum said. “Now I want to get every veteran a permanent marker. It’s going to happen. This means a lot to me. No veteran should be forgotten."
For her silver and gold projects, Landrum plans on building off her bronze project and possibly creating a set protocol for the funeral home when they identify a veteran and what to do to ensure the veteran receives a marker.
Landrum is one of 10,000 girls participating in the United Way of Morgan County’s partner agency Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama, an organization devoted to building a girl’s courage, confidence and character and inspiring them to make the world a better place.
United Way, along with our 30 partners, fights for the health, education, and financial stability of every person right here in Morgan County.
When you support United Way of Morgan County through your workplace campaign or through a corporate or individual gift, you are helping the most vulnerable among us…the young, the old, the sick, and the poor as well as those affected by both man-made and natural disasters. Those people are your neighbors, your co-workers, your family members, and your friends.
United, we can win the fight! Won’t you join us?! www.uwmcal.org