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Removal of American flags and flagholders from graves angers families

Cemetery with flags (Creative Commons/Released)

Michael Weick made a spur-of-the-moment visit to his father’s grave Tuesday, worried about what he might find.

He read online that the Middletown cemetery where his parents and other relatives are buried was removing items from graves, including American flags and veteran flag holders.

When he saw his father’s flag and World War II marker were still by his grave, the Northampton resident was relieved.

“But I feel for the other people affected by this,” Weick said. “OK, so apparently there’s been this policy about grave markers, but you’ve let it slide all these years and now all of a sudden you start taking things away without giving people the opportunity to remove them themselves?”

Photos that started circulating Monday on social media of a pile of discarded American flags and veteran flag holders at the Our Lady of Grace Cemetery off the Route 1 Superhighway prompted anger not only from families, but veterans and veteran groups who six weeks ago planted 3,000 flags honoring military members buried there.

The removal of the items may have violated state code, according to the director of Bucks County’s military affairs department.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia released a statement explaining that its new grounds-keeping company removed only worn and deteriorated flags and markers as well as other items that that did not comply with the cemetery’s longstanding decorations policy at the cemetery, which opened in the 1950s and has more than 10,000 graves.

This news organization was unsuccessful in reaching for comment a representative of Pioneer Vault, the Plumstead company that took over perpetual care and maintenance of the cemetery and labor associated with burials on July 1.

The archdiocese said Tuesday that Pioneer Vault will see that the flags are retired in a respectful manner that follows the U.S. flag code guidelines and will work with Our Lady of Grace parish to replace the flags with new ones. The deteriorated flag markers will be stored for six months at the cemetery, where families can retrieve them.

“The parish will work with the vault company and appropriate government agencies to obtain replacement markers for those that were removed as part of the maintenance process,” archdiocese spokesman Ken Gavin said. Our Lady of Grace’s pastor met with two local Veterans of Foreign War representatives Monday to discuss the plan to make sure graves are appropriately marked, Gavin added.

Pennsylvania County Code requires cemeteries leave county-provided American flags and veteran flag holders in place from Memorial Day through Labor Day, according to Dan Fraley, who heads Bucks County’s military affairs department. He has consulted with the county’s solicitor to find out what options the county has to ensure the flags and markers are put back.

The thousands of taxpayer-funded flags that volunteers planted for Memorial Day in cemeteries across the county are designed to last three months, Fraley said. He added that most cemeteries leave the veteran flag markers in place to identify the graves.

He said that in most of the photos he’s seen on social media, the removed markers at Our Lady of Grace looked new.

Signs are posted at the entrances of the cemetery state that grave decorations that are in violation of cemetery rules will be removed. The archdiocese said Tuesday that families will have at least six months to retrieve other removed non-military items that do not comply with the policy.

But some families are not satisfied with how the situation unfolded.

Falls resident Joan Graves was shocked to find an angel figure and lighted cross she had placed next to her son’s grave were removed.

“It’s unconscionable to do something like that without notifying beforehand the relatives of those who are interred here,” she said. “How can they do something like that and not let people know?”

Lower Southampton resident Joy Casey said she found out on social media that her mother’s Vietnam veteran flag marker was removed. She retrieved the marker Tuesday and took it home.

At the time her mother was buried, such markers were allowed, she added.

“It’s very disgraceful to me and leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but I guess we have to forgive and move on,” Casey said. “They said it was removed because it was damaged or broken or didn’t look good. But the point was to honor my mother’s service.”


© 2019 Bucks County Courier Times