A group of Girl Scouts may deserve a "Saving Memorial Day" badge after their quick thinking preserved a Southern California cemetery's tradition of honoring veterans.
The girls of Troop 1124 scrambled Saturday to replace hundreds of American flags apparently stolen from an Inland Empire cemetery. They quickly bought out several nearby stores of their flags, according to the Troop leader Cynthia Bertoldo, spending $450 of their own money in a gesture that a cemetery worker said saved their Memorial Day weekend.
"We used our cookie money to buy new flags so we can remember and honor our veterans," said Bertoldo's 11-year-old daughter, Emiley.
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For Memorial Day each year, an Inland Empire Veterans of Foreign Wars post adorns veterans' graves at Elsinore Valley Cemetery with crosses accompanied by small American flags, cemetery administrative assistant Michael Blake said. They work with some other entities and the help of Boy and Girl Scouts.
But the roughly 650 flags were missing from a storage shed Saturday morning, and suspected stolen -- on the day when they were supposed to be laid out.
"We all kind of looked at each other like, well, what are we going to do?" Blake said.
Troop 1124 was at the cemetery at 8 a.m. to help with the project, just like they'd done for the last six years, Emiley said.
But when they were told that, unlike the prior years, they wouldn't be able to plant flags in the crosses, the girls discussed it and voted to take action.
"Tell us where to go, we'll go get the flags now. We don't want to walk away without the flags on these graves," Cynthia Bertoldo said.
They called nearby stores, including a Wal-Mart, Big Lot and Dollar Tree, and reserved all the flags they had on hand.
All told, Troop 1124 spent $450, Bertoldo said, "quite a bit" of their cookie fund, which is usually spent on things like trips. But Bertoldo said that the girls always spend at least 30 percent of the troop's cookie sales profits on the community.
The troop returned triumphant. It was a relief, Blake said, to be suddenly gifted a set of over 700 new, and matching, flags. He called the girls "saviors of the day" and added it was "really awesome of them to step up and do it for us, because that wasn't cheap."
All told, the girls were at the cemetery for about five-and-a-half hours Saturday, until 1:30 p.m., when the flags were all set up, Cynthia Bertoldo said.
"This is what I expect from the girls all the time," she said. "This is who they are. They're just excited that somebody thinks that they're special."
The Bertoldos have a personal connection to the cemetery, too: Emiley's great-grandfather's wife is buried there.
And though she never met him, Emiley thinks about her great-grandfather a lot, she said. Vito Bertoldo was honored with the Medal of Honor for guarding two U.S. command posts in France against a host of enemy soldiers, including nearby tanks, for two long days in January 1945.
"Master Sergeant Bertoldo withstood the attack of vastly superior forces for more than 48 hours without rest or relief, time after time escaping death only by the slightest margin while killing 40 hostile soldiers," his medal citation reads.
Emiley said she was amazed at "all he's done for our country." And as for the great flag rescue of Memorial Day 2015, she said "it feels super good when you're helping the community."