Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts honor veterans at Los Angeles cemetery

By C.J. LIN | Daily News, Los Angeles | Published: May 27, 2012

LOS ANGELES — A small American flag fluttered at the grave of Pfc. Samuel Sungjune Lee as a small group of Boy Scouts gathered around his tombstone Saturday.

All around them, about 87,000 other flags marked other fallen soldiers at Los Angeles National Cemetery, each planted by 3,000 Boy and Girl Scouts to honor the military's dead over Memorial Day weekend.

Lee, a Korean-American soldier who died less than two weeks before his 20th birthday while serving in the Army during the Iraq War, was unknown to the members of Boy Scout Troop 777, based out of Koreatown.

But his service and death carried special significance to the group, which had made it tradition to seek out all Korean-American soldiers buried at the cemetery to pay tribute.

So far, they had found five.

"We do this because American soldiers came to Korea and fought and helped save at least half of Korea, so today half is free," said Scoutmaster Joseph Shin. "So that's why every one of these boys is able to be here in the United States. And because of that, Samuel Lee was able to come and protect the United States and give back."

Boy Scout Avin Kim, 17, was shocked at the number of military graves.

"I have the utmost respect for all these fallen soldiers that gave us a chance to live with freedom," Kim said. "We have a chance to live without fear. I'm lucky that we have a country with all these dedicated soldiers that put their life on the line for us so we can live better."

The annual ceremony drew thousands of Scouts from across the Southland, who turned the 114-acre cemetery into a sea of red, white and blue in less than two hours.

Veterans from World War I, World War II, the Korean War and other conflicts are buried at the Westwood cemetery, including 14 Medal of Honor recipients. Also interred there are more than 100 Buffalo Soldiers, who were African-Americans who served in the 9th, 10th, 24th and 25th Cavalry of the Army during the Civil War.

Two war dogs - Blackout and Bonus - are buried there with their handlers.

At each white tombstone, a Scout would plant the flag into the grass and salute.

"You do it to salute all the people that died for our country and for us," said Trevor Gabor, 10, of Troop 564 of Van Nuys.

Upon seeing the graves of those who were killed in action, the boy felt mixed emotions.

"I feel proud," Gabor said. "But sad also, because they fought for our freedom but they all died trying to."

The event was a chance for parents and troop leaders to teach the Scouts about patriotism and respect that they normally wouldn't learn from their outdoors- and arts and crafts-based activities, said Eric Ehrman of West Hills.

"This is the one thing we don't want to miss every year," said Ehrman, whose 10- and 9-year-old sons have participated in the event for six years.

"It's to teach the kids about respect for the soldiers that fought the wars."

Jeremy Cutler, 17, the newest Eagle Scout of Troop 236 out of Valley Village, was given the honor of planting a flag on the grave of Coxswain Timothy Sullivan, a Medal of Honor recipient who served in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Louisville in the Civil War.

"I think it's awesome that they would do such a thing for our country," Cutler said. "They are very brave."

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