A labor of love: Middletown man donates time, flags to veterans’ memorials

Ed Ellis is framed inside a fence as he mows outside the Korean War monument in Jim Barnett Park in Winchester on Thursday. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – No one asked Ed Ellis to mow the grass around war memorials, to replace and dispose of old, tattered U.S. flags, or to organize honor guard ceremonies for veterans – sometimes several in a day. He just knew it needed to be done, so he started doing it in 2005 and hasn’t stopped.

He receives no pay for his services.

“Some people around here have farmer’s tans; I’ve got a lawn mower’s tan and an honor guard’s tan,” he said.

Ellis doesn’t use any motorized zero turn mower. He uses an old school push mower, and brings it to Jim Barnett Park in Winchester to tend to the grass surrounding the POW/MIA Memorial and the Korean War Memorial. It takes him between four and five hours.

The grass is mowed every week.

Ed Ellis uses a string trimmer as he works his way around the brick work at the Korean War monument in Jim Barnett Park. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I just think it needs to be done,” he said, when asked why he puts in the time. “No one wants to volunteer for anything anymore. They’re all too busy.”

Ellis was born in 1940. In 1958, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as an armory crewman, working in tanks through the Korean War. He’s fit for his age and toned from his time in the war, his hockey playing days and his countless hours behind the mower. He wore dog tags in his interview, along with a Korea Defense Veteran hat. He said he never takes his dog tags off and won’t until the day he dies.

Over the years, Ellis has seen some changes in the U.S. He lived through World War II, he served in Korea, and he watched the Vietnam War from the sidelines. He tried to offer his services then too, but following his discharge in 1961, the Army thought he’d done enough for his country.

If you asked Ellis about it, he’d offer plenty of reasons people don’t volunteer anymore, or why people leave their flags hanging uncared for until they’re tattered and torn. He said he isn’t too shy to knock on strangers’ doors and offer to take them down and properly dispose of the flag for them.

“It’s the same old disrespect,” he said. “They throw them up there and forget about it until they’re old rags hanging. People need to start taking pride in the flags.”

Ed Ellis, of Middletown, sits on the back of his pickup truck before starting his mowing duties outside the Korean War monument in Jim Barnett Park in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

However, Ellis could give you a few places where America went wrong – like the elimination of the military draft.

All Americans should serve, he said, so they learn self-discipline and chain-of-command skills during their formative years.

“Learning to do as you’re told, when you’re told, without any backtalk makes a difference in a person,” he said.

He and his family have bite to match his bark, he said. Ellis’ brother also served in the Army. His sister and another brother served in the Navy. Ellis has no children.

Regardless of what others think, Ellis will still be out there, keeping the grass prim and proper for those seeking to pay their respects at a veterans’ monument, or carrying out a proper funeral for veterans as he acts as honor guard at their burial.

Ellis said he will continue his volunteer services, free of cost to anyone, as long as he is physically able, or until he requires an honor guard of his own.

He  lives just outside of Middletown with his wife, Charlotte. You can catch him at VFW meetings, on Rolling Thunder rides or performing his rituals of veteran-focused community service throughout the Shenandoah Valley.

The town of Middletown is set to honor Ellis and bestow him with the Honorary Citizen of the Year Award at the Fourth of July Parade on Monday.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com