Seventy-five percent of Americans consider themselves extremely patriotic, according to a recent study by the American Enterprise Institute. Preston Sharp, age 11, falls squarely in this category — and this boy is redefining what it means to be a patriot.
Since Veteran’s Day 2015, the sixth-grader from Redding, California, has been honoring deceased local veterans in his own unique way — with a sense of ritual and conviction.
“After I place a flag and a flower [on a gravesite], I say the veteran’s name aloud and thank him or her for their service,” Sharp told LifeZette. “I make sure that everyone who comes and helps me does the same thing.”
When Preston visited the gravesite of his paternal grandfather, George Sharp, at McDonald’s Cemetery, he was struck by the lack of flags and flowers on the tombstones of veterans. Disheartened by what he saw — or, rather, what he didn’t see — the boy stepped up in a big way.
“They gave their lives for us. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them,” he said. “Also, I think that it was really sad that some of them got booed when they came home after serving.” Preston Sharp never met his paternal grandfather, who’d served four years in the U.S. Navy — which makes his unwavering commitment toward veterans even more remarkable.
In a short span of time, the blue-eyed youth with an infectious smile has achieved more than he could have imagined.
“I’ve placed more than 29,000 flags and red carnations,” he said proudly.
To reiterate: 29,000. And he has no intention of stopping soon. So far, his “Flags and Flowers for Vets” endeavor has grown to include cemeteries in Shasta, Tehama, and Glenn counties — and also a crowd-funding site. His goal has expanded to honor as many veterans as possible, from Redding to Sacramento.
He’s found a great source of support in his mom, April Sharp, a single parent. From the get-go, she has been with him from cemetery to cemetery and has also coordinated visits with military veterans, whose stories of valor Preston is only too eager to hear.
“What mom could say no to that?” she said. “I just follow his lead.”
But even April Sharp, who is also the mother of 16-year-old Steffan, can’t pinpoint the source of her younger son’s dedication.
“To be honest with you, I thought he would’ve been like every other 11-year-old, do this for a couple weeks and then forget all about it,” she said. “But every time I told him I couldn’t afford any more flags and flowers, he said, ‘Don’t worry, money will come.'”
Preston Sharp’s faithful efforts are yielding significant returns. His crowdfunding site has raised over $33,000 so far. His goal is $500,000.
He’s also become somewhat of a local celebrity, receiving media exposure and public recognition. Last December, he was honored with the Community Hero Award by the Redding Chamber of Commerce — its youngest recipient ever.
Recognizing there’s more work to be done, the young patriot with strong leadership skills is taking his newfound fame in stride, spending up to 15 hours every week — rain or shine.
“It’s important for people to know that I don’t just honor the fallen veterans,” he said. “I also honor veterans who are living.”
[lz_third_party align=center width=630 includes=https://scontent-lga3-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/19554377_208615592995026_598299176678209285_n.jpg?oh=518e438f70a2cfef4c61927aff1944ab&oe=5A5435B9]
Case in point: Last Christmas, he came to the aid of a Vietnam veteran named Tim Witting, who’d served in the Navy on a guided missile destroyer. Also from Redding, Witting was not permitted to take his dog, Rusty, to live with him in a facility for veterans. When Preston Sharp learned this, he negotiated with his mom to adopt Rusty from a relative of Witting’s in Oregon — instead of getting a laptop computer, which was initially on his Christmas list.
“He has an extremely large heart, and he strongly believes that this is the right thing to do.”
“The veteran can [now] see the dog whenever he wants to,” said the boy.
To be sure, Preston Sharp’s determination is matched by his kindness.
“He has an extremely large heart, and he strongly believes this is the right thing to do,” said April Sharp. “I have always told him that if he sees something wrong to never complain, unless he wants to do something about it.”
The boy, meanwhile, has set up a GoFundMe page to chart his progress. “I’m going to stop only when I can’t bend down anymore,” he said.
Elizabeth M. Economou writes about higher education, health, and real estate. She is a former adjunct professor and CNBC staff business writer.