September 24, 2014 - 1:30 pm
When people wear their hearts on their sleeves it generally means their feelings and emotions are out there for everyone to see.
Debbie Shaw does this every day, except her heart is red, white and blue and more closely resembles an American flag.
The Boulder City woman shares her feelings and love for this country and the patriots who served it during her regular visits to the Southern Nevada Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery, often wearing a flag shirt.
She visits almost every day, usually in the early evening when the temperatures are not too severe and it’s fairly quiet.
On Thursdays, she sets up about 100 flags. On Wednesdays, before the cemetery maintenance crew mows the lawn, she removes them. The rest of the days, she checks on their status, making sure they remain upright and in place.
It’s not an easy task. The ground is hard and the grass growing around the gravestones makes it difficult to place the flags. I know. I helped her replace them last Thursday.
Typically, she spends several hours at the cemetery placing the flags and watering plants left at the grave sites.
Shaw brings along a cup of ice to help her stay cool and a folding chair so she can take a break. It, too, resembles a flag.
But for Shaw, it’s a labor of love. And she said it’s therapeutic for her.
“No one is ready to lose someone they love,” she said.
Shaw lost her husband, Larry Shaw, on Feb. 22. He was 56 years old.
The Navy veteran is buried at the cemetery.
She misses her husband dearly. She used to count the days since he died. Now it’s weeks.
But, she said it doesn’t get any easier.
His is the first grave she visits. In addition to a flag, she places an eagle and a solar light. Usually she brings him orchids. She said she once owned a landscaping business and “orchids were our thing.”
Shaw said she would put a flag on every gravestone if she could. They all served our country and they all deserve it, she said. Instead, she tries to scatter them around the area where her husband is buried, making sure each row and column has at least one flag.
The flags were part of her husband’s collection. He had about 100 and was very patriotic, she said.
Several people have asked her to look after their loved ones, which she gladly does. They usually receive a flag each week.
Sometimes, the grateful family members leave her a card of thanks and a monetary token of appreciation. Early last week Shaw said she found a card with some money inside — carefully wrapped in plastic in case the sprinklers came on — on one of the graves she tends to regularly.
In her car is a miniature repair shop. She can sew or staple the flags to the poles as needed so they can fly above the graves.
When they get too tattered to remain on display, she removes the flag from their poles or sticks and carefully folds them into ceremonial triangles. She said she is not sure of how to properly dispose of them, so they are sitting in a jar at her home.
Shaw said she doesn’t know how much this caretaking is costing her, but it has taken a toll on her finances.
Through an unfortunate set of circumstances, she lost her job and has sold many of her possessions to make ends meet.
She said she is considering setting up a nonprofit organization to continue her efforts to fly flags above the graves of the veterans but doesn’t know how to go about it.
Shaw said she would welcome any help and can be found at the cemetery in the early evening hours.