NORTH FORK — For 40 years, one dedicated World War II veteran has been honoring those who served by placing flags at each of their graves in the North Fork Cemetery on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. This year, after the community lost this stalwart soldier to cancer, there was a changing of the guard.
George Priest passed away in January, and in the months leading up to his death, he worried that there would be no one carrying on the tradition that had been such an important part of his life.
Since 1976, George and the other members of the now disbanded Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) 7140 had carried out this mission together, walking in respectful silence among the graves, pausing at each veteran’s marker to place an American flag. But as the years passed, so also did his fellows one by one, leaving only George to honor the legacy of these heroes.
And so George and Betty, his wife of 57 years, continued the tradition together, visiting the cemetery twice a year, reverently setting the flags in a patriotic patchwork across the green expanse beneath the oaks.
Then in 2010, George lost his beloved wife to cancer. Knowing how important the ritual was, and that George was getting up there in years, daughter-in-law Chery Priest stepped in, accompanying him on his biannual sojourn.
In 2013, George was diagnosed with cancer. Though he suffered from the effects of radiation treatment as he approached his 89th birthday, he remained true to his commitment.
As he visited the cemetery on Veterans Day 2015, George knew his time was short.
“When Dad and I were there that day, he told me that this was likely the last time he would be doing this,” says Chery. “He was very fragile and also very worried. It weighed heavy on him, not knowing what was going to happen, and whether someone else would step in to carry on what was so important to him.”
So Chery set out to make it happen. She contacted Augie Capuchino, a member of the North Fork Lions Club and the creator/maintainer of the Veteran’s Wall at the Gas ‘n Stuff.
Augie didn’t hesitate. He brought it before the Lions, who readily took on the mission, and on Saturday, May 28, fourteen Lions and some of their spouses gathered at the North Fork Cemetery — proud to be stepping into George’s shoes and ensuring that those who served are never forgotten.
“I know it was a weight off his mind,” says Augie, who headed up the project. “Having someone to make the transition and continue on with this really brought him some peace.”
George Priest, who passed on just 10 days shy of his 91st birthday, now lies next to his beloved wife Betty, and was honored on Saturday by the members of the North Fork Lions Club, along with nearly 160 other service members who share this final resting place, now adorned with the proud colors of the nation to which they pledged their allegiance and eternal devotion.
“Go ye to the graves and decorate,
Place flags for boys who have died;
Kneel down and say prayers for your loved ones,
But know they’re still by your side!”
~ Gertrude Tooley Buckingham, Memorial Day—1945
GEORGE EDWARD PRIEST — On January 14, 2016, George passed away in North Fork, CA, after a long battle with cancer. He was at home surrounded by loving friends and family. He was 90 years old.
George was born in Barnard, VT, on January 24, 1925. He was the fifth of nine children born to Bernice Addie and Robert Earle Priest. He was fond of saying he was born on the day of an eclipse.
He was active in baseball and football and enjoyed working in the woods and being outdoors. He enjoyed backpacking, fishing and reading almost anything non-fiction.
George served in the U.S. Army as a Field Lineman from July 1943 to March 1946. He was also a member of the Artisan Lodge of Winchendon, MA.
He met Betty Louise Hood in North Fork, CA, and they married in December 1953. George worked for the U.S. Forest Service and Betty was a teacher at North Fork Elementary School. He performed Snow Surveys for 23 years and worked for the Forest Service until he retired in June of 1975. Following his retirement, he worked as a Foreman at the Bonnie B Ranch in North Fork for several years.
George is survived by his sisters Reta Warman and Phyliss Ward, his sons Edward, Richard, Roger and their families as well as the many, many beloved friends and neighbors of his local community.