OHIO VALLEY — Flags waving in cemeteries across the country are a familiar site on Memorial Day. As families and friends place flowers on the graves of their loved ones, they are surrounded by flags marking the grave sites of Veterans who have served since the establishment of the United States.
But who puts those flags out every May? They have become such an integral part of Memorial Day their source is often overlooked.
The people who place the flags begin their efforts several weeks before Memorial Day and are always finished by the holiday weekend. When visitors arrive the flags are in place with no trace of the distributors in sight.
According to Meigs County Veterans Service Officer Douglas Dixon, his office provided 6,000 flags for distribution by American Legion Post 602 in Racine, Post 39 in Pomeroy, and Post 128 in Middleport; Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 9053; Disabled American Veterans; Brooks Grant Camp #7; and VFW Post 9926 in Mason County, West Virginia.
John Thomas, Gallia Veteran’s Affairs director, said their office also provided 6,000 flags to be placed. According to the Ohio Revised Code, it is the responsibility of Township Trustees to place the flags in each of their township’s cemeteries.
“They are always willing to place the flags,” Thomas said. “They do all 381 cemeteries in the county, except for three in Gallipolis.”
He said the exceptions are the cemeteries in Gallipolis: VFW Post 4464 place the flags in Mound Hill Cemetery and Boy Scout Troop #200 in both Pine Street Cemeteries.
The Veterans Affairs Office also provides brass markers that hold the flags for each soldier’s grave. Most flag holders have the emblem of the war in which the Veteran served from the American Revolution (1775-1783) to the Global War on Terror (Oct 2001-).
If the Veteran’s service was during peacetime, the marker denotes Veteran without a reference to a war.
Honoring those who were killed in battle has a long history in the United States, but the Civil War brought the tradition to the national conscious with the deaths of over 600,000 soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
Decoration Day across the United States was originally a time to honor Civil War soldiers by placing flowers on their graves. It was later renamed Memorial Day when it was established as a national holiday to be celebrated on the last Monday in May as a day to honor and remember all those who died while serving in the U.S. military.
Although there is debate on the origin of the day, the first official “Decoration Day,” was held at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868. Flags were placed on each of the headstones, and so the tradition of placing flags on a special day began.
© 2020 Ohio Valley Publishing, all rights reserved.
Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for The Daily Sentinel.