Why we remove the flags at the Athens Valley Cemetery


I recently read a letter concerning the removal of the veterans flags at the Athens Valley Cemetery ("Flags missed at Athens cemetery," Dec. 6). A request was made by Phil Reeve, 2nd Vice President and Past Commander of Post #37 in Bellows Falls, who is also an Athens cemetery commissioner, to remove the flags by Veterans Day. The request was discussed and passed by the commission.

There are flag codes concerning proper guidelines in flag etiquette, which can be found by going to www.legion.org or www.ushistory.org. The Legion site is where I went to find out if what we have been doing out here for all these years was correct. I even sent out an e-mail to the Legion's "flag expert" to find out what the correct protocol was concerning these flags. I found (much to my dismay) that leaving the flags out in the manner that has been done for many years (passed down from cemetery commissioner to cemetery commissioner) was wrong.

The answer I received from the American Legion flag was, "The National Americanism Commission (a part of the Legion) recommends that all Legion posts follow the practice established by the National Cemeteries of removing flags from veterans' graves as soon as possible after Memorial Day and other patriotic holidays." The flags in our cemetery were removed before Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

There are many "codes" concerning our flag and I think we no longer follow most of them as individuals or as communities. One such code states, "It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flag staffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness. The American Legion interprets ‘proper illumination' as a light specifically placed to illuminate the flag (preferred) or having a light source sufficient to illuminate the flag so it is recognizable as such by the casual observer." The flags in the cemetery were not illuminated so this would be a breach of the flag code.

Another code is, "The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when an all-weather flag is displayed." The flags used at the cemetery are made of cotton which after a short period of time exposed to the weather becomes faded, discolored and frayed. There are even times when the staples holding the flags onto the dowels come out and the flags ended up on the ground. I understand how one may miss those flags fluttering in the breeze marking the graves of our country's veterans. But those flags are also a symbol of our country and after six months out in all types of weather they were no longer proud symbols of the country those men and women served. They needed to be removed and disposed of properly. There are no penalties for not following the flag codes, they are codes of conscience.

As for the stones that are laying on the ground. Yes, there are a couple. As with every cemetery, time takes its toll and it is not a simple job of just uprighting a stone and sticking it back into the ground. Sometimes they have broken from their bases, the base is unstable or the stone itself (especially marble) has become fragile over the years and trying to reattach the headstone would only cause more damage.

The cemetery commission does not have all the answers nor do they have abundant resources or manpower to keep our cemeteries in pristine condition. They do the best they can with what they have and what time is available. This commission is elected and does not get paid for the time and effort put in to try to maintain our cemeteries. So maybe we do need new commissioners that have a fuller understanding of how to take care of the cemeteries with limited resources, who can produce experts to fix broken and damage headstones at no cost to the town and who can sit down and write some rules and regulations on how the cemeteries should be run and taken care of so when their time in office is over with there are guidelines in place for the next commissioners to follow.

Sandi Capponcelli is a lister in the town of Athens. Her husband is a member of its Cemetery Commission.


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