Tiede, of Dunwoody, was an 8-year-old Cub Scout participating in the Boy Scouts Flag Placement Ceremony organized by the Foothills community, which takes place every Memorial Day weekend. Boy Scouts decorate the gravestones of fallen veterans with American flags.
This Saturday’s ceremony saw a record-setting attendance of 1,483 people, said Bob Cato, the event organizer.
“We had considerable positive response,” Cato said. “It really set the tone for the rest of the weekend.”
Tiede, now 18, said he’d learned about his role in the community by participating in the event for the last nine years.
“It shows me how much some people are able to give to their community, and it shows I can show respect to that and to everyone,” Tiede said.
Tiede didn’t know the enormous history behind each person’s name before placing his flag on Art Younker’s memorial stone. But Ron Younker, who lives in Marietta and is the director of talent management at Cobb EMC, told Tiede about his father’s history as a paratrooper who went behind German lines to spy on the enemy.
“I think (the Tiede family) realized there was a story behind every stone,” Ron Younker said.
Then, the Cub Scout made a promise.
“They vowed to do it as long as he was a Scout,” Ron Younker said.
Now, Tiede is an Eagle Scout, and Saturday’s Memorial Day Flag Placement Ceremony was the last he will participate in.
“I am humbled by it. I am grateful that God has given us the opportunity to honor our father and our mother this way,” Ron Younker said.
Tiede’s achievement marks the end of a tradition, but not the end of a relationship.
The Younkers — Ron and his wife Pam — and the Tiedes — son Blake, mother Tina and father Al — have grown close through the years.
“It was a Memorial Day event that has turned into a really lasting friendship,” Blake Tiede said.
The two families have attended Blake Tiede’s Boy Scout events, including his two Scout graduations: from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts and from Boy Scouts to Eagle Scouts.
“We’ve been very proud of him. We’ve watched him both excel academically and also in Scout activities,” Ron Younker said.
The Tiedes and the Younkers have shared meals and celebrations, but they’ve also offered each other help.
Ron Younker was one of many Atlanta commuters left stranded in traffic for hours in the January snowstorm. He couldn’t make it home, but the Tiede family happened to live close to the road Ron Younker was stuck on and offered their home for him to wait out the storm safely.
“It was just another one of those coincidences, such as the first day we met him,” Al Tiede said.
Blake Tiede has helped the family memorialize Art Younker, who died when Ron Younker was only 7 years old.
“I have all these memories of my father without really having him be there,” Ron Younker said. “God has given our family this opportunity. He has allowed us to raise up our father and honor him with what Blake is doing.”
But Al Tiede said his son’s commitment to honoring this veteran and his family has also taught his family the true meaning of Memorial Day.
“It has given us a new respect for those that paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, and it has given us an understanding that behind every one of those 18,000 stones is a story,” Al Tiede said. “I think it helped him learn, at a very early age, of the respect and honor that should be paid to these people who fought for our country.”
His father said he thought this tradition was one of the motivators that helped his son complete the Scouts and earn Eagle Scout.
“It was an interesting timekeeper. For a lot of kids, they can mark time in their Scouting journey — most often through summer camp,” Blake Tiede said, “but for me, it was this Memorial Day ceremony.”
Blake has aged out of the Boy Scouts, but he will always be an Eagle Scout, he will continue his friendship with the Younker family. And he will always remember what he learned about Memorial Day.
“You realize there’s people behind the stones. There are also families who have suffered the losses of the men,” he said. “It’s made me realize a whole new dimension to the holiday.”