Preston Sharp, a 12-year-old boy from Redding, California, is being honored at the State of the Union address for his national effort to place flowers and flags on veterans’ graves.
Sharp’s effort to make sure veterans are properly remembered is called “The Flag and Flower Challenge,” and he’s been doing it since 2015. In a written statement released before the State of the Union Address, the White House listed Sharp among President Donald Trump’s guests. On Facebook, Preston has listed his motto: “Honor veterans every day and not just on a holiday.”
That’s a sentiment that the boy lives out despite his young age. Preston’s website says that Veterans Flowers and Flags is a non-profit organization. His website notes in capital letters: “PRESTON SAYS THAT HE WON’T STOP HONORING VETERANS UNTIL HE CAN’T BEND DOWN ANYMORE.” Preston sat next to First Lady Melania Trump at the State of the Union.
“Young patriots like Preston teach all of us about our civic duty as Americans,” the president said. “Preston’s reverence for those who have served our Nation reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Preston Sharp Noticed That Local Veterans’ Graves Lacked Flowers & Flags
When Preston Sharp visited the grave of his grandfather, who was a veteran, he noticed that something was missing and decided to do something about it. According to The Record Searchlight, Preston’s grandfather was a veteran of the United States Navy.
“Preston Sharp was visiting his veteran grandfather’s grave in 2015, when he noticed that other local veterans’ graves were not being honored with American flags or flowers,” the White House said in the statement. “Today, Preston has organized the placement of more than 40,000 American flags and red carnations on soldiers’ graves, as part of his goal to honor veterans in all 50 States and to challenge others to join the Flag and Flower Challenge (#FandFChallenge).”
According to a GoFundMe site created to help fund Preston’s efforts, “It was during this visit that Preston, then just 10 years old, became upset when he noticed that other local veterans were not being honored on this special day with a flag or a flower.”
During the State of the Union address, President Trump said, “Here tonight is Preston Sharp, a 12-year-old boy from Redding, California, who noticed that veterans’ graves were not marked with flags on Veterans Day. He decided to change that, and started a movement that has now placed 40,000 flags at the graves of our great heroes. Preston: a job well done.”
2. Preston Asked His Mom How Much Money He Could Make By Vacuuming Floors to Help Honor the Veterans
The boy was determined that the graves would not remain unadorned. According to the GoFundMe site, “being a normal ten-year-old he continued to verbalize his irritation throughout the day, so I eventually advised him that ‘You can’t complain about something unless you try to do something about it,'” Preston’s mother wrote.
Preston’s response “was a look of conviction and the words ‘I’m going to do something about it Mom!'” she wrote. “His attempts to raise funds began immediately when he asked how much money he could get if he vacuumed the floors.”
Later that night, Preston came up with his mission. “That night Preston set a goal to honor every veteran at the McDonald cemetery in Redding with the placement of a flag and a flower. Using social media, word of Preston’s effort and goal spread and the Sunday visits to McDonalds cemetery began to draw other community members, some from more than 60 miles away,” the GoFundMe site explains.
3. Preston’s Goal Gradually Expanded Nationally
A project involving a single cemetery quickly spread and now encompasses a national movement. “As Preston began to realize his goal of honoring all veterans at the McDonald cemetery he extended his goal to include veterans at other Redding cemeteries, then it was veterans in Shasta County, then the neighboring counties were brought in too,” the GoFundMe site says.
“Preston then set a goal to honor veterans in every township along Interstate 5 between Redding and Sacramento, a 160 mile stretch of highway. Having met that goal Preston has set a new goal to honor veterans in all 50 states and to challenge others to get involved wherever they are through the Flag and Flower Challenge (#FandFChallenge),” the site says. “A challenge for those across the United States, and other countries where US Service men and women are buried, to go out with a US Flag and a flower and THANK a veteran for their service.”
Preston is making progress toward his goal. “So far Preston has met his goals of honoring veterans in Redding, Shasta County and he fulfilled his goal of reaching Sacramento during the summer of 2017,” the site explains. “For his goal of honoring veterans in all 50 states he has visited cemeteries in California, Nevada, Oregon, Virginia and Florida. As of January 2018, Preston has organized the placement of over 40,000 US flags and artificial red carnations at veteran’s gravesites.”
4. Along the Way, Different Communities Have Rallied Toward Preston’s Cause & Preston Makes a Point to Read the Veterans’ Names Out Loud
Preston Sharp is not alone in his quest to make sure the veterans are honored. “At each cemetery visited more community members come out to meet Preston, to help clean gravesites and to say, ‘Thank You’ to those who have provided service to our country,” the GoFundMe site reads.
“If you come out to help, Preston has specific expectations. It isn’t just placing a flag and a flower at each headstone, Preston wants each veteran to be thanked personally by saying out loud the veteran’s name and to thank them for their service. Preston is quite specific about saying the veteran’s name out loud, as he feels that a veteran’s name not said out loud is a veteran forgotten.”
5. Preston Once Asked to Help a Veteran by Adopting the Veteran’s Dog
The boy’s empathy toward veterans shines through in other ways. “Preston doesn’t honor only the fallen veterans, he also visits a local home for veterans and enjoys listening to their stories, sometimes going out to lunch or dinner with them,” the GoFundMe site explains.
“It was through one of these visits that Preston met a veteran who had to give up his dog when he moved into the Veterans home and the dog was in Oregon so he wasn’t even able to visit him. It was for Christmas 2016 that Preston asked if instead of the laptop he had asked for could we please adopt Rusty, the veteran’s dog, so that the veteran could still see his dog whenever he wanted.”
Preston’s website explains more about this veteran. “Tim Witting, 71, is a Vietnam veteran. He moved into the home a few months ago after his health was deteriorating. It was a bittersweet move because he could not bring along his furry four-legged friend Rusty,” the website says. Preston did in fact adopt Witting’s dog. Witting is quoted on Preston’s website as saying, “To have a boy at that age, to do what he is doing and to take me under his wing and my dog is just amazing. He is just wonderful. He’s just been raised right and he’s growing right.”