Students use technology to aid in placing flags at veterans’ graves

A global positioning system helped Wahpeton High School students with this year’s flag placement at the gravesites of veterans in Fairview Cemetery. Above, Emily Schuster, 18; Rachel Loberg, 17; Devin Wichael, 17 and Mason Ennen, 17.

For the third year, Seth Simonson attended Fairview Cemetery’s annual flag placement at the graves of 526 veterans.

Simonson, an assistant professor at North Dakota State College of Science, Wahpeton, teaches construction management technology, land surveying and civil engineering technology. 

He and his students put their skills to use by developing a global positioning system to make flag placement easier for volunteers at the Wahpeton cemetery. 

The volunteers, including students from Wahpeton High School, tried out the advanced technology the afternoon of Thursday, May 25.

“It’s all computer-based, GPS-based,” Simonson said. “(My students) basically used the Excel spreadsheet that the cemetery had of all the veterans. We came up with a GPS and placed everything we had on a coordinate system. That way, we could find exact GPS coordinate so we could map the cemetery out and link every single veteran to an actual physical location.”

From there, Simonson’s students created a web app which was available on the iPads used by each team of volunteers.

“You can go to the website, search for a name. It will pop up and show you where they are buried, what branch of the military they served in, what conflict they fought in,” Simonson continued.

Using a drone helped Simonson and his students receive accurate information.

“We flew our drone over the whole cemetery and got up to date, high resolution aerial maps,” he said.

Those maps are of a higher quality than what the average app user might get looking when using Google Earth to find a grave, Simonson told the volunteers.

“We’ve successfully mapped every single veteran so far in this cemetery,” he said.

Mary Vetter, Richland County Veterans Service Office, also attended the flag placement event. She was joined by Ron Verhaagen from the Wilkin County Veterans Service Office.

Vetter and Verhaagen are preparing for the Veterans Information Expo, to be held from 2-6 p.m. Wednesday, May 31 at the Wahpeton Community Center, 304 Fifth St. S. in Wahpeton.

“Veterans and their families (can) meet with local and state service providers and veteran organizations,” reads a flyer for the information expo. “The general public (can) come to learn about veteran services in your community.”

Noel Eckroth, who teaches social studies at Wahpeton High School, has brought students to Fairview Cemetery for the past three years.

“This is something that appeals across the grade levels,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to log some volunteer time.”

Approximately 20 students placed flags this year.

“I thought it was a good opportunity to help the community and do something supportive in honor of what they’ve done for us,” said Rachel Loberg, 17.

While Loberg has helped out with the flag placement before, this was the first year for Devin Wichael, 17.

“The veterans gave their lives for us,” he said. “We should give back for them.”

While Simonson’s work at Fairview Cemetery is largely complete, he knows there’s more to be done thoughout the Twin Towns Area.

“We finish up one cemetery, we’ll move to the next one,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to keep the information up date as we go and get a full picture.”

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