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By Ed Moreth 

Honoring veterans in Dixon

 

Ed Moreth

AMERICAN ENSIGN – Jan Oelschlager places a U.S. flag at the grave of veteran Albert Browning, her brother, while her husband, Ole, looks on, at the Dixon Cemetery. The Plains couple placed 10 flags at the gravesites of veterans to recognize them for Memorial Day.

The Dixon Cemetery is all but forgotten by most people, but there's one Plains couple that wants to make sure that the military veterans buried there are remembered, at least once a year.

The cemetery, situated on a high bluff about one and a half miles southeast of Dixon, is mostly overgrown with weeds. Some of the headstones have fallen over; a couple of them are in crumbles on the ground. Of the near 70 people buried there – those that are visible – a handful are unmarked and only 10 graves have any markings that show military service. Yet, for the last 30-plus years, Jan and Charles "Ole" Oelschlager mark the veterans' gravesites a week before Memorial Day with a small American flags to honor them for their military service.

The Oelschlagers spent just over two hours at Dixon Cemetery last Monday, but they don't just place flags, they mow, weed eat, clean up trash, and put artificial flowers on every grave, even the unmarked ones. "If we clean up this place, it would be a forest of weeds," said Jan.

The project started because Jan, who grew up in Dixon, wanted to put flags at the veteran graves of her family members: Albert Browning, Dean Galarneau, Eli Galarneau, Jacob Browning, and John W. Browning, who she believed served in World War I. Jan also placed a VFW Auxiliary marker at the gravesite of her sister, Suzie Dahl.

The couple does the service on behalf of the veterans and VFW Post 3596 of Plains. Post members placed flags at veterans' graves at Plains Cemetery Saturday. Ole has been a member of the VFW post since 1973. Jan is a member of the VFW Auxiliary, formerly the Ladies Auxiliary.

It wasn't long after Jan started putting out flags that she and Ole decided to put flags at the graves of all the vets there, presently five others. Four of them were U.S. Army and one served in the U.S. Navy. Ole found one very old grave that was barely readable. The headstone had either fallen or was knocked off and it was in pieces. Jan laid it in place next to the grave and placed the pieces together in an effort to read it. She said part of it looked like it had the year 1914 and the word Army, but she wasn't sure. She's tried to find out who the person was, but has had no luck. However, Ole decided to put one of the 8X10 inch flags at the site anyway, just in case. There are several graves that are marked with a headstone or wooden cross, but have no information, not even a name, on them.

"There's probably more veterans here, but we just don't know," said Ole, who served in the U.S. Navy from 1962-1965. "If we don't do this, it probably wouldn't get done and I think the veterans should be recognized. I guess it's our good deed for the year," said the 75-year-old Jan. "We just feel obligated to do this for the veterans. It's the right thing to do and we like doing it," said Ole.

Ole moved to Plains in 1970 and met Jan in Thompson Falls. "She took one look at me and had to show me off to her mom and dad," said the 74-year-old Ole.

U.S. Air Force veteran Ron Berry, Jan's son, helped them with the Dixon project a couple of times and once in awhile they get help from someone else, but for the most part, they've done it all these years by themselves. "We tried to get other people to help, but they totally ignored us," said Ole. He said they used to put flags at a private cemetery situated a few hundred yards outside the Dixon Cemetery. A sign had been placed there that reads "Veteran Burial Site." There are three World War II vets and one that served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. One year, someone took out the Oelschlagers' flags and replaced them with larger ones. Since then, the graves have flags, but Ole and Jan don't know who does it.

The Dixon Cemetery job usually only takes them a couple hours. They also hoist a flag up the cemetery flagpole. Placing the flags was easier this year because of PVC pipes that U.S. Navy veteran Ed Foste of Plains designed specifically for the veterans' graves. The six-inch pipes are placed about four inches into the ground at the military members' gravesites, so the flags only need to be put into the pipe instead of volunteers first having to make a hole in the ground, which sometimes was tough due to hard ground. Foste had more than 1,000 PVC pipes made for Plains Cemetery, too. Ole said it was much easier, but he hopes the wind doesn't blow the flags out of the holders. He said the cemetery is on a high hill and gets a lot of wind. The couple will return to the cemetery to retrieve the flags in early June.

"I don't know how long we'll be able to do this; we're getting too old," said Ole. "I guess we'll do it until we can't, but I doubt anyone will do it after us."

 

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