California boy, 11, becomes the pied piper of patriotism

REDDING, Calif. -- Young boys aren't easily appalled, but 11-year-old Preston Sharp sure knows the feeling.

"Yeah, I was really surprised," Preston said. And really disappointed.

Preston's mom April had never seen him like this before. "Not this angry and passionate," she said.

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Preston Sharp at his grandfather's grave

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What upset her son so much was visiting his grandpa's grave in Redding, California, and realizing that not every veteran in the cemetery had a flag. April says even hours later, he was still harping on it.

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Preston Sharp

CBS News

"And I was like, 'Son, if you're going to complain about something, you have to do something about it or let it go.' And he's like, 'Well, I'm going to do something about it, Mom,'" she said.

Next thing she knew, Preston was taking on odd jobs and soliciting donations to buy flags and flowers for every veteran in his grandpa's cemetery. And when that cemetery was covered, he moved on to another, and then another.

Here we are, two years and 23,000 graves later. 

And he does it every week, rain or shine -- especially rain.

"They were out there in the rain doing their job, protecting us," Preston said.

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Preston at work

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He says coming out in the rain -- or 100-degree heat -- is the least he can do. His devotion really is enormous, and contagious.

Now when word gets out Preston will be at a cemetery, a lot of folks feel compelled to join in. People like Vietnam veteran Fred Loveland.

"It's just amazing," Loveland said. "What he's doing brings them out, because they can't believe that a young man in this country is doing what he does."

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Volunteers helping Preston in his mission

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It is a movement of young and old, of those who served themselves and those who are so grateful they did, all led by this little pied piper of patriotism who saw an injustice and decided to do something about it.

Next Wednesday is Flag Day, but for Preston Sharp, it's just another one of 365 chances to do what's right.

To contact On the Road, or to send us a story idea, email us: OnTheRoad@cbsnews.com.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.