Town Considers Assuming Responsibility For Flags On Veterans' Graves

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Veterans

Flags on the grave of a veteran at Union Cemetery. TIM WOOD PHOTO

CHATHAM – Should the town be responsible for placing flags on the graves of veterans?

Currently, the cemetery regulations expressly state that the town and the cemetery commission is not responsible for the placement of flags in the cemeteries. But with the department of public works taking over maintenance of the cemeteries, it may be time to change the regulations, according to cemetery commission members.

The issue came up over Veterans Day, when some residents wondered why damaged or old flags on the graves of veterans weren't being replaced.

Flags have never been put out for Veterans Day, said Park Director Dan Tobin, whose department current contracts out cemetery maintenance. Flags are placed on graves on Memorial Day, usually by veterans groups or local scouts, he said.

“We have not had a practice of putting flags out for Veterans Day,” he said at the cemetery commission's Nov. 18 meeting. “But if we want to do it, we have to plan to get the flags and have someone to set them out.”

In the past, the American Legion and VFW post has been responsible for making sure the graves of veterans are identified with medallions, on which small flags are placed on Memorial Day. “Those groups have sort of gone by the wayside and been unable to do it,” Tobin said. In the past several years, Chatham Boy and Girl Scout troops have put out flags donated by local veterans.

The regulations do not require the flags to be maintained or replaced when worn, and many get torn or damaged in the months following Memorial Day. Since there are currently no town staff dedicated to the cemeteries, it's hard to monitor the condition of the flags, Tobin said.

The department of public works will be transitioning to maintaining the cemeteries after current contracts with local landscapers expire. DPW Director Tom Temple said three employees of his department will spent 50 percent of their time doing cemetery upkeep; the rest of their time will be spent helping out in the DPW as needed. The cemetery department, like the park department, is a division of the DPW.

Temple said he is making capital requests for equipment for the crews, smaller mowers and other items specifically for use in the cemeteries. He said he is finalizing the request and soon be submitting it to the town manager and finance director. The arrangement should result in improved maintenance of the cemeteries.

“It won't be an Arlington (National Cemetery), since there's no irrigation,” he said.

Meanwhile, the DPW has begun replacing fences and posts in the cemetery as well as clearing storm damage.

“The different divisions in the department of public works have really stepped up,” Temple said.

Flags sometimes take a beating in the cemeteries, Tobin said, because they are exposed to windy conditions almost all year. The large flags that fly on flagpoles in each of the cemeteries must be replaced three to four times a year due to winds.

If the commission changes its regulations to have the town put flags on the graves of veterans, Temple suggested consideration of a timeframe on how long flags stay out so that they don't become tattered and torn. That way, he said, “it's clear to everybody who comes to visit why a flag has been removed.”