Flags in remembrance: Community comes out to honor Veterans

Volunteers grab bundles of flags labeled with the locations of veterans graves Saturday morning to distribute in the Old City Cemetery. The flags were part of an event by the Brownsville Historical Association to help mark and honor the graves of local veterans buried in the historic cemetery ahead of Veterans Day on Nov. 11.(Denise Cathey/The Brownsville Herald)

By DENISE CATHEY, Staff Photographer

Volunteer Jesus Olvera keeps checking the label on the last remaining flag in his bundle of American flags as he searches block 68 over and over again at the Old City Cemetery. He’s been trying to find the grave of veteran Eulalio Resendez for almost 20 minutes without much luck. He has the block and plot number, but there doesn’t seem to be a headstone anywhere with that name.

Olvera resorts to running his fingers over the names on the more worn-down headstones to see if they might be it, but none of them match.

“I’m going to have to go see David,” Olvera said.

David Parsons is the Education and Membership Coordinator for the Brownsville Historical Association and has been studying, locating, and identifying where he can the 27,200 burials in the Old City Cemetery since 2010. He’s also responsible for identifying or locating the nearly 400 veterans that are known to be buried in the cemetery.

In honor of Veterans Day, Parsons’ brought over 40 volunteers Saturday morning to help decorate veteran’s graves with American flags.

While usually the volunteers only help the Association put out flags for observance of Memorial Day, this year the Association decided to also put out flags for Veterans Day.

“We have a flag that we place on the veteran’s graves that identify them and hopefully people will come out on Veterans Day,” Parsons said.

The cemetery, deeded by Charles Stillman in the 1850s, has over a century of burials, including the breadth of military service by Brownsville natives and transplants.

“We have a veteran from every war from the War of 1812 all the way up to Desert Storm,” Parsons said.

The trouble for Parsons, was finding out exactly where they are in the cemetery.

“If they have a headstone, that’s easy. We can find them, but if there’s no headstone there’s no recording of where they are actually buried,” Parsons said.

Some veterans either never received one, or had their information erode over time or were vandalized making it difficult to find them outside of a general idea.

It also largely depends on where in the cemetery they were buried.

“If they are buried in this main section of the cemetery there’s a block and a lot number. Down here towards the hill and over it, the city recorded them but they never platted that so there’s no identification of the location other than Potter’s Field,” Parsons said.

Potter’s Field, which is around three blocks long by one block wide, served as the cemetery’s paupers’ burial ground. So while Parsons has burial records from the city, it doesn’t tell him where in that area they actually might be buried.

At the end of the day Olivera isn’t able to find Eulalio Resedez’s grave as he doesn’t have a headstone. As with other veterans that were difficult for volunteers to locate, Parsons will go back later to place the flags in the right area.

“It’s fun because it’s a mini scavenger hunt, but at the same time it’s sad because I think they deserve a little bit more respect due to the fact that they did give their lives for this country,” Olvera said.

While Parsons hopes the event helped volunteers gain an appreciation for the veterans in the Old City Cemetery, he also hopes that it will bring visitors to the cemetery to pay tribute to them and to appreciate the glimpse into the human lives and history that is recorded there.

“This is a treasure,” Parsons said.