California teen honors veterans nationwide

During his visit to Hawaii, California resident Preston Sharp plants an American flag in front of a grave at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Nov. 23.

Story and photos by Kristen Wong

Life and Leisure Editor Ho‘okele

HONOLULU — It is early morning at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. Preston Sharp plants a small American flag into the earth near a veteran’s grave, and thanks that veteran by name.

“A veteran’s name not said out loud is that veteran forgotten,” Preston said.

Members of the Pyramid Rock Young Marines, the Jeep I. Joe club, the Pacific Bowfin Submarine Veterans and other supporters joined Preston, 13, to place red carnations and American flags at the Punchbowl graves, Nov. 23.

Three years ago on Veterans Day, Preston was visiting his grandfather’s grave in Redding, California. His grandfather served in the Navy, and Sharp’s family visits the grave often. It was that day, however, when he noticed that other veterans’ graves were not adorned with flowers or flags, and he grew upset.

Retired Lt. Cmdr. Paul Jurcsak (left), of the Bowfin Base Submarine Veterans and retired Lt. Col. Rich Zegar, a member of the Honolulu Sunset Rotary Club, place American flags and carnations on graves at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Nov. 23.

“I told Preston ‘you can’t complain about something unless you are willing to fix it,'” Preston’s mother, April, wrote on his website.

Preston decided he would fix it.

Today, he has honored approximately 185,000 veterans in 24 states. The California resident has now visited 24 states to honor veterans at cemeteries.

“I just never expected that he would have this much passion as he did the very first day,” said Preston’s mother, April. “He’s very passionate about honoring veterans every day.”

When he visits a new state, he enjoys meeting new people, and trying different foods. This was his first time in Hawaii, and he hoped to try surfing.

Pyramid Rock Young Marines Pvt. Raidon Kahao, Pvt. Mason Delaflor and Pvt. Cameron Westerlund render salutes to a veteran’s grave at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Nov. 23.

Preston goes to cemeteries with flags and flowers when he is able to raise enough funds.

“I think it’s so important (to honor veterans) because they risk their lives and they give their lives to us,” Preston said. “I think it’s so important that we give that back to them. They go through all this training and all this hard work and they go through battle it’s just so much that they can take I just want to give some of that back.”

Preston mentioned that some veterans came home from war to hateful greetings, referring to the Vietnam veterans.

“Now you can say ‘thank you’ for their service and you can get their hopes back up,” he said. “Honor veterans every day, not just on a holiday.”

In addition to laying flags and flowers, Preston visits veterans, and listens to their stories. He has even adopted a veteran’s dog so that veteran could be close to their pet despite being in a home.

After making a few remarks at Punchbowl, Preston asked the group to join him in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. He then demonstrated how he honors each veteran.

“We want to be able to come out and do things like this,” said Army Sgt. Lane Goff, a UH-60 Black-hawk helicopter repairer with 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, 25th Infantry Division and president of Jeep I. Joe. “(We) really just want to give back to the ones who paved the road for us in any way we can.”

Goff said the club’s vice president heard about Preston through an acquaintance and planned for about a month to support him.

“The fact that he’s a (13)-year-old kid trying to do more than what most people do in our country nowadays is impressive and I respect that a lot,” Goff said.

Retired Lt. Cmdr. Paul Jurcsak, of the Bowfin Base Submarine Veterans, and retired Lt. Col. Rich Zegar, a member of the Honolulu Sunset Rotary Club, were among those attending to support Preston at the cemetery.

“It’s inspiring that we have someone that takes that initiative at such a young age. I think it’s a blessing for our country that we have that kind of future,” Jurcsak said. “It’s our honor to help him in his mission because this is a mission that the country cannot forget.”

Zegar said he was stunned when he heard about what Preston is doing.

“We hear so much about our snot-nosed kids that don’t care about America and you see this it really does your heart good,” Zegar said.

Preston hopes that he can eventually get cemeteries nationwide to place American flags on veteran graves for Veterans Day.

For more information about Preston’s story and mission, visit https://prestonsharp.net.

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Category: News