Seventeen-year-old Preston Sharp invited Burlington County residents to help him honor veterans buried at the township’s Lakeview Memorial Park on Nov. 9.
Since the age of 10, the California resident has traveled the country laying flags and flowers on veterans’ graves. New Jersey is the 49th state Sharp visited; he completed his 50-state tour in Delaware on Nov. 10.
Sharp’s journey started in 2015, when he visited his grandfather’s grave on Veterans Day.
“I went out there to just place a flag, and when I placed that flag, I looked up and I was walking around the cemetery, just realizing how many of those veterans weren’t being honored,” the teen recalled.
“I got really frustrated and really mad that our veterans weren’t being honored, especially on Veterans Day, and I just kept on complaining and complaining.”
Sharp’s initiative has grown quickly.
“My goal was to honor veterans in all 50 states,” he noted.
He found help along the way from strangers in each state.
“I think I called around 80 cemeteries to find one that would let me place flags and flowers out, so it’s amazing that the cemetery said yes and I was able to come out here and honor veterans,” Sharp said of Lakeview.
“My motto is, ‘Honor veterans every day, and not just on a holiday,’ but luckily, it lined up with Veterans Day and it just makes it even more special,” he added.
Sharp talked about how individuals can honor veterans in other ways.
“It’s amazing for me to travel and honor veterans, especially just to see all of these people out here to help me,” he said. “It’s an amazing feeling, especially because of younger people as well, teaching them that we need to honor veterans every day.
“It’s not that we need to just honor veterans at a cemetery; we can honor veterans anywhere and just say ‘thank you for your service’ to them if we see them out in public,” Sharp continued.
He hopes to inspire others with his story.
“It’s not hard to go to Lowe’s or Walmart and buy a flag and a fake flower, or just a flag, and honor a veteran at a cemetery,” he pointed out. “You don’t have to know them, but you’ll feel really good once you do that.”