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Terry Dickson: Riders ensure that flags fly for veterans

Sat, Nov 8, 2014 @ 8:09 pm | updated Sun, Nov 9, 2014 @ 8:54 am


BRUNSWICK, GA. | Veterans will get some recognition Tuesday with Veterans Day parades and ceremonies, free meals and some simple thanks for their service.

Members of a club in Florida, most of whom ride motorcycles, work to ensure that the graves of veterans are recognizable every day.

The Hilliard-based Blank Check Society has ridden to 18 cemeteries since January and placed flags on 700 graves, sometimes after cleaning some remote cemeteries, said Eric E. Lewis. A Navy retiree, Lewis founded the club with his cousin, Marine veteran David Lewis, who served in Korea.

The club has 62 members, and they don’t wait for Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Christmas or other holidays, Eric Lewis said.

“We put flags out in the rain, in mosquitoes and gnats,” on sweltering summer days and cold winter wind, he said. “We try to go places people won’t go. We try to go to those ones down long country roads.”

They go the cemeteries that have been ignored by other organizations or just missed.

For two years, the Lewis cousins were the original “graveriders.”

“We didn’t call ourselves anything. We’d just get on our motorcycles and go put out some flags,” Eric Lewis said.

They were talking about how rewarding it was and wondered if others would like to join them. They formed the club in December 2013 and since then have rumbled down a lot of country roads with flags bundled on their bikes’ sissy bars.

They came up with the name for the club from an observation from an officer looking over bodies on a battlefield in World War I. The men had written a blank check to their country for whatever was needed to protect liberty and they ultimately gave all.

Even those who survived gave something of themselves, Lewis figures.

Some lost limbs or their mobility. Some lost their families when their marriages failed while they were deployed. Children weren’t born, money wasn’t banked and some careers never happened.

Lewis figures there’s something providential in the sacrifices.

“What he takes out of that blank check isn’t up to you,” he said.

The club members pay dues, most of which goes to flags, but that isn’t enough so they have barbecue sales, low country boils and other fundraisers like a yard sale Saturday.

“Our mission is to make sure there’s a flag on every veteran’s grave in every cemetery we visit,” Lewis said.

He writes a blog about what they find. One was about Alfred, a World War I artilleryman. He gives voice to Alfred who spoke of lying in the “Chester Cemetery alone, no graves for 20 feet, forgotten by family and friends. … I don’t recall a flag ever at my headstone.”

The club cut brush 6 feet tall, “grass so thick leaves can’t hit the ground, all entwined by thick vines and huge spider webs.’’

“Men and women, called graveriders from the [Blank Check Society], carrying a flag … My flag,” said Alfred, who came home with something left in his account.

The club also escorts funerals. Lewis wrote of one June 5 from Hilliard to the National Cemetery on Lannie Road.

Talking to the family, Lewis learned the veteran had been 17 when he lied about his age to enlist in the Army and go to Vietnam while others were going to Mexico or Canada to dodge the draft, he wrote.

He saw some moving scenes on that ride: The truckers who braked their loads and placed their hands over their hearts as the procession passed; the farmer plowing in a field who stopped and stood at attention with his hand over his heart; the old man at a stoplight in Callahan who shifted his cane to his left hand so he could salute with his right.

The Blank Check Society graveriders will keep going on their missions down country roads to recognize the sacrifice of others and to give their families comfort.

“If you come here for recognition and for somebody to thank you all the time, you’ve come to the wrong place,” Lewis said.

All they’ll leave is a cleaner place and a flag with its colors still full.

“Families visiting their loved ones’ graves find a bright new flag. They don’t know where it came from,” he said.,(912) 264-0405