SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) – You’ve probably heard the saying “a dime for your thought,” but on Veterans Day, a man from Marionville had some thoughts about honoring those who gave their lives for our country with thousands of cents to have.
While the rest of the world went about its daily activities on Friday, Larry Ludwig finished a labor of love that began four days earlier at the Missouri Veterans Cemetery in South Springfield.
When he was done, Ludwig had put a pfennig on every gravestone in the cemetery, out of over 6,000.
“I’ve made it my mission to make sure every tombstone out here is visited by at least one person,” Ludwig explained. “I’ve been out here since Tuesday, put a penny on a headstone and then I salute.”
Placing coins on tombs dates back to ancient Greece and became popular in the US during the Vietnam War. A penny means someone has visited the grave to pay their respects. A nickel means they went to boot camp with the deceased soldier. A dime means they served together and a quarter means they were present when the military member died.
Ludwig, a 20-year Army and Navy veteran who also serves as a chaplain at VFW Post 676, said placing pennies is the best way to honor his fellow veterinarians.
“Since the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War, the veterans feel forgotten,” he said. “These people out here will not be forgotten.”
However, Ludwig admitted that the long days of doing the same thing over and over again took its toll.
“It was my first time and I’m 83 years old,” he said. “And I doubt I’ll ever do that again because the tombstones aren’t very tall and you have to bend down a lot to put the coin down. Then stand back to do the salute. So after a while you get pain in your arms and between your shoulder blades.”
Not that he’s complaining.
“It was my pleasure and an honor,” he said.
And he went through much worse during his military service.
“Our ship was in a typhoon and when the bow went up and hit the bottom of the next wave, the water shot up two stories,” Ludwig recalled. “I was clinging for my life!”
Ludwig wasn’t the only one who felt a sense of duty at the Missouri Veterans Cemetery. A group of 15 students from the Springfield Public Schools BASE program came out to help clean up and beautify the cemetery.
“The BASE program is a company-based undergraduate training program for juniors and seniors to learn work and life skills,” said Amy Bullard of the BASE program. “A big part of our program is community integration experiences, and since today is Veterans Day, we knew we wanted to give back to our veterans. Getting out of here and cleaning up was what we thought was right.”
After a week of mild days, Friday was a stormy, colder day in the 40s, but students didn’t complain.
“It’s cold, but it feels good because we’re putting out flowers and tidying up and showing that we appreciate what they’ve done,” said student Alex Padron. “They risked their lives to save us.”
“It’s quite cold but it’s an honor to come here and make it look beautiful and do as much as we can,” added student Bradley Hicks.
The students didn’t know about Ludwig’s Penny project until they arrived, but wanted to get to know him. And it was a moving sight to see them exchange hugs and greetings to pay tribute to an 83-year-old veteran who himself was paying tribute to his fallen comrades. Ludwig even gave the group some money (bills, not pennies) to “get some sodas,” as the different generations showed mutual respect and love in a society where that’s not often seen.
As the group boarded the bus for departure, Ludwig had a big smile on his face.
“The younger generation is on the rise,” he said. “They’re a bunch of good kids. Some of them said I was a hero. But I’m not. Our heroes are those buried here.”
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