If you’ve ever gone to Mt. Clark cemetery or seen it from the road over any Memorial Day weekend, the flag display is spectacular. This display is the result of hard work by Central City’s dedicated American Legion Post 421 members who gladly take on the almost daunting task to decorate veterans’ graves and cemetery roadways to commemorate Memorial Day.
The work begins the Tuesday before the Memorial Day weekend. Post members gather at the Legion Hall to gather up over 400 “small” graveside flags that have been stored since last year’s display.
Groups split out and are assigned to go to eight different cemeteries (Mt. Clark, Jordan’s Grove, Oak Hill, Blodgett, West Prairie, Boulder, Matsell Bridge, Mills Grove), taking the flags with them. Post members then walk the cemeteries to look for iron American Legion grave markers that are alongside many veterans’ gravestones. The small flags are then inserted into the flag holders. Some veterans’ gravestones, however, do not have flag holders, so Post members look at all legible gravestones to see if there is a military notation or insignia. Flags are placed at those graves as well.
Then, on the Friday before Memorial Day, Post members gather again for a really big job – putting up the large 5’ x 9.5’-foot casket flags that fly high in the wind in the cemeteries.
For each large flag that flies in the cemetery, there are four major pieces to put together: A flag pole holder buried in the ground alongside the cemetery road, a 12’-foot flag pole, a white wooden sign with a veteran’s name and branch of service, and the actual casket flag for that specific veteran.
Over 140 flag poles are retrieved from storage on the morning of the flag raising. They are hauled to the cemetery on a large flat-bed trailer. The folded casket flags are retrieved from the Legion Hall display cases and put in designated boxes for disbursement at the applicable cemetery.
Each box is marked with the location in the cemetery where the flag is to fly, as close as possible to the specific veteran’s actual grave site. Additionally, boxes of the veterans’ wooden name signs are loaded into cars and trucks and off all go to the cemetery.
Then the work really begins. First, the buried flag holders must be located and uncovered. Legion members find the flag holders with the aid of metal detectors. But sometimes these can’t be found even with metal detectors.
So then out comes the long tape measure. Each pole is between 10’- and 14’-feet apart (depending upon the terrain), so measurements are taken to identify the spot where the flag base might be located. Once found, the dirt covering the holders is shoveled away so that the holder’s cap can be exposed and unscrewed.
Next, a flag pole is placed on the ground lined up with the underground flag base. Then the veteran’s wooden name plaque is removed from the box associated with that sector in the cemetery, and inserted into the ground in front of the exposed flag base.
Next come the boxes with the flags associated with this specific part of the cemetery, and the correct casket flag found. It is only after all of this that the flag can be attached to the pole, then finally raised and placed in the flag base. And to think that this is done over 140 times at four different cemeteries.
Then, on the Tuesday after Memorial Day, Legion members once again disperse to the cemeteries to remove the small flags from individual graves, and take down the large flags, poles and signs. Poles are taken to the storage facility, and the flags and signs taken back to the Legion Hall.
Over the course of the next week or so, the large flags will be properly folded in the military triangle and placed back in the display cases. Small flags will be rolled up and put into boxes. The name signs will be stored in the correct cemetery sector boxes.
And everything is then ready for next year. Central City’s American Legion Post 421’s ongoing dedication to preparing local cemeteries for remembrance and recognition of deceased veterans on Memorial Day is truly an act of love and patriotism.
Thank you to them, and to all who have served our nation.