CAMP NELSON NATIONAL CEMETERY — Like millions of Americans this Memorial Day weekend, Pete Farris of Richmond visited the grave of a fallen soldier.
"Everybody knew my daddy," Farris said Saturday morning as he gently placed flowers on the graves of his parents, Morris and Mollie Farris, at the historic cemetery 7 miles south of Nicholasville.
"Daddy served in the Korean War and drove a church bus for many years. He was 54 when he died in 1986, had heart trouble. Mother died in 1997."
About 21,000 people will visit the 30-acre Camp Nelson this weekend, and Patrick Lovett wants to make sure they find "a beautiful, peaceful resting place for their loved ones." Lovett is director of eight national cemeteries, seven of them in Kentucky: Camp Nelson; Lexington; Danville; Nancy; Lebanon; two in Louisville; and one in New Albany, Ind.
Maintenance is a daily job, Lovett said, but "the work certainly does pick up for Memorial Day. It's our busiest time of the year."
Camp Nelson, which now includes 30 acres and 14,000 interments, was listed by Congress in 1866 as one of 40 burial grounds to become a national cemetery. It is run by three staffers and eight field workers.
"We sometimes have to mow three times a week in the spring, depending on the weather, but we do extra mowing, trimming and mulching rings around trees for Memorial Day weekend," Lovett said. "Everybody pulls together, and every year it seems to come across flawlessly."
Volunteers are a necessity, especially for this weekend, Lovett said. About 200 volunteers, most of them Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, showed up Saturday morning to put a small American flag on each grave.
Former Marine Sgt. Maj. Bill Gay of Lexington has coordinated the Scout volunteers for the last 26 Memorial Day weekends at Camp Nelson. Gay instructed the volunteers in a brief, no-nonsense ceremony at the administration building before the flags were placed.
Tracy Lucas of Jessamine County, dressed in a Civil War uniform and a volunteer in the cemetery's honor guard, got the ceremony started with a blast from a cannon.
"Now that you all are awake," Gay said after the boom, "get up here around me real quick. I'm not going to yell across this cemetery."
Upon seeing a group of late arrivals, Gay bellowed, "You're nine minutes late. We were to start at 9 a.m. sharp, and people are still straggling in. What's going on here?"
"Stay off the landscaping," he immediately warned a group of Scouts standing on the mulch around a large tree. "The folks here do an awful lot of hard work. This place is better looking than Arlington, and we don't need anyone to mess it up for them."
Gay stressed that the flags should be placed straight up on the graves. "This is not a race," he said. "Pause a bit at the stones. Look at the names, the ages. Some gave all for you. Keep their memory alive and don't forget them, ever."
Shawna Wachs of Nicholasville, Cubmaster of Pack 207, helped her son, Clay Wachs, and his companion, Logan Boone, both 10, put flags on the graves.
"I'm doing this for my activity pin," Clay said.
His mother said, "I'm trying to teach him and the other Cubs that what they are doing is more important than getting a pin. It's honoring people who helped preserve our freedoms."
Dan Tribuzio of Stanford has been a maintenance worker at Camp Nelson for four years. His 11-year-old son, Nickolas, accompanied him to work Saturday.
"It's an honor to work here. I really enjoy it," said Tribuzio, a Navy veteran. "We pay respects to those who serve."
As the volunteers began their work, a quiet Pete Farris was finishing his visit to his parents' graves.
"Camp Nelson sure is a pretty place," he said.