A lasting legacy: Williams VFW Auxiliary places markers, flags at cemetery

Williams VFW Auxiliary place flags and placards on veterans buried in the Williams Cemetery May 14. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

Williams VFW Auxiliary place flags and placards on veterans buried in the Williams Cemetery May 14. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

WILLIAMS, Ariz. — On May 14, members of the VFW Auxiliary in Williams placed flags and markers on graves of veterans at the Williams Cemetery.

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Williams Veterans of Foreign Wars members Mary Pfeifer, Carol McElwain, Ellen Hampton, Cathy Hart, Vern McElwain, Harry Hart, Joan LaPier, Cosette Riggs, George Riojas, Susan Pedersen, Rick Pedersen and Adrianna Malerney place flags and placards on veterans buried in the Williams Cemetery May 14. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

“For several years the VFW Auxiliary helped Williams veteran and historian Perico Avila place flags on veteran graves for Memorial Day,” Carol Lee McElwain, Auxiliary Senior Vice President, said in a press release. “When approached about helping him, he was overjoyed and could not thank us enough.”

Following Perico’s death in 2016 McElwain and the Auxiliary continued to place markers and flags at the graves.

“He would tell us to place flags on graves that were not clearly marked as a veteran and would tell us the history of the veteran and how long he lived in Williams,” McElwain continued. “We figured that no one else knew of all these people and it would be good to plot the cemetery to have a map of these veterans resting places. So our ‘Recognize Every Veteran’ project was born.”

McElwain said the decision was made to plot the cemetery. Five Auxiliary members completed the task over the course of two days.

“Unfortunately Perico passed before we could get his final touches to complete the mapping,” McElwain wrote.

The Auxiliary has identified 328 veterans in the Williams Cemetery. One-hundred and twenty of those graves already had a metal flag holder veteran’s medallion, leaving 208 without a veteran medallion to distinguish the grave as a veteran’s final resting place.

The cost to purchase veteran metal grave markers along with flags for all 328 veterans was $3,000.

Auxiliary members applied for a VFW community grant, however, the grant money was no longer available that year.

“Not to be discouraged, we put in for the Greater Williams Community Fund and received a grant from them,” McElwain wrote.

The Auxiliary also re-applied for the VFW grant and received it. With the grants, the Auxiliary was still short a third of the funding needed. Members were able to raise the remainder of the money by selling handmade silk floral arrangements for the fall and Christmas seasons.

Once the markers were purchsed, it took five members and three hours to assemble them.

“We would like this to be an ongoing project and be contacted when a new veteran is laid to rest in our community cemetery, so we can place a marker and put them on our mapping project,” McElwain said.

The Auxiliary has currently secured funding through donations to continue the project. They are asking if any grave or veteran has been overlooked that the Auxiliary be contacted. More information is available from the Auxiliary at (928) 225-0931.

About the Williams VFW Auxiliary

The Williams VFW Auxiliary was instituted on August 23, 2014. The Matthew James Broehm VFW Post 12128 was established in 18 months prior to the Auxiliary. The Auxiliary is funded through two raffles and two dinners that are held annually. The VFW Auxiliary is one of the nation’s oldest veteran’s service organizations. It has nearly 500,000 members representing every state in the U.S.

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