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Firefighters help Va. man place flags at cemetery for Memorial Day

Quantico firefighters help Chuck Eley and his volunteers place over 45,000 flags

By Cathy Dyson
The Free Lance-Star

QUANTICO, Va. — Chuck Eley probably knows better than most how one act of kindness can multiply into something much greater, whether that’s helping families touched by cancer or honoring veterans at their final resting place on Memorial Day.

The Spotsylvania County man is well known throughout the region as the man behind the Lisa Pitts Eley Foundation. He started the organization in 2016, two years after his wife died of cancer a few weeks before Christmas. Their blended family included six daughters, and cancer had cost them so much personally, and financially, that Eley assumed there wouldn’t be any gifts for them under the tree.

A community of friends stepped in with such amazing generosity that Eley was inspired to do the same. He’s helped hundreds of local families going through the same things he did with a simple premise: raise money for those who need it.

Eley got into his Memorial Day activities in a similar way.

In 1996, he was paying respects to relatives at what’s now called the National Memorial Cemetery at Quantico when he saw an old-timer planting flags in front of tombstones. They struck up a conversation, and Eley learned that Alexander Jones Jr ., known to everyone as “Buck,” was a sergeant first class in the Army, “a war hero,” Eley said.

Jones had served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and it was his dream to see the Stars and Stripes in front of every marker at Quantico. The cemetery currently serves as the resting place for more than 40,000 individuals.

But he couldn’t do it alone. He said he needed a young man like Eley “to help get this thing going.”

Eley responded: “Yes sir, I’m your man.”

Eley kept his word and started raising money for flags. More accumulated each year, and more sections of Quantico were decorated for the Memorial Day holiday. Jones died in 2007 before Eley got flags on every grave, but he met that goal a few years later.

Another group puts flags on two sections of the national cemetery, and Eley and his team of volunteers do all the others: more than 45,000 flags total.

“I know he’d be tickled to death,” Eley said about Jones. “I know him and my father (Ray) are smiling down and proud of everyone who’s involved with this.”

Eley gets major support from members of nearby Quantico Fire and Emergency Services, led by Capt. John Sickel, “the ringleader” helps get 25 or more firefighters to the cemetery. Veterans from Virginia Heritage at Lee’s Parke in Spotsylvania and Celebrate Virginia in Stafford help also as does Forrest Lingenfelter, retired Army and the Virginia coordinator for the Missing in America Project. It locates and identifies the cremains of unknown soldiers so they can get a fitting burial.

“I love this, that’s why I’m here,” said Lingenfelter as he carried an armful of flags.

Eley typically starts the process the Monday before Memorial Day and finishes on Tuesday, depending on the schedule of the grounds crew. He’s always looking for more helpers to put 45,000 flags in the ground — and likewise needs help on the back end, to take them out of the ground, wrap them up and get them in storage for next year.

This year, he’ll remove the flags on Wednesday, May 29. He’ll start at 9 a.m. in Section 23. Anyone interested in helping can reach him through the foundation website at

In addition to veterans and firefighters, many of those who planted flags this week have met Eley through his foundation work and either benefitted from or have witnessed, his acts of kindness.

“That man is something else,” said Debbie Stanley, a “Nana” who placed flags with her granddaughters, Rylie and Haylie Johnson . “He’s an amazing individual who does a lot for a lot of people.”

He’s also the “unofficial uncle” of the three children of Ashley Balch: Freya, 5, Nimue, 4, and Emrys, 3. The youngsters dutifully put flags behind flat markers on Tuesday morning as their mother, and Eley offered instruction.

Mike D’Ostilio, retired Army, loved seeing the children there.

“I think it’s terrific,” said the Stafford resident. “They’re starting young on patriotism and service, and that’s important.”

The Johnson sisters, who are 17 and 15, said they wanted to show their gratitude for those who have fought and died for their country as well as for family members who kept things going at home.

“It’s a big responsibility on both sides and a big sacrifice on both sides,” Rylie said.

Mason Malloy also was one of three teenagers, including Hampton Bourne and Zach Dalbeuzio, who thought it was important to be at the cemetery and put flags on the graves of veterans.

“It’s the least we can do,” Mason said.

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