Missing flags at old cemetery a cause of concern

Published 12:10 am Thursday, June 16, 2022

SALISBURY — On Memorial Day, flags have, in the past, been placed at every grave and along the columbarium at both National Cemeteries in Salisbury, but this year,  the flags did not appear on the graves at the Historic Salisbury National Cemetery on Government Road, a situation that the cemetery director says will never happen again.

Phil Smyre, who became director after the last Memorial Day celebration three years ago, was planning for his first flag ceremony this year since COVID caused a two-year hiatus. He said he contacted a landscaping company about placing the flags at the cemetery.

“I knew we had volunteers from the community coming out to place the flags at the annex,” he said, “so I made sure to reach out to them on Tuesday before the event on Saturday.” He noted there are more than 7,000 graves at the original site, and that it takes two employees about three days to get all the flags placed.

Friday afternoon, about 1:30 p.m., he went to the site and realized no flags were out except the Avenue flags, which are placed along the street at the entrance.

The employees on site did not seem to be aware that they were supposed to have placed the flags, he said, but when he reached out, a company official said  they had given the instruction to their employees assigned to the cemetery.

“It’s just a very unfortunate miscommunication,” said Smyre, “and we will make absolutely sure it never happens again.”

Ronnie Smith, a local resident, veteran, president of The Smith Foundation and an organizer of the annual Memorial Day ceremony, said he was caught by surprise by the missing flags, but understands that such things happen.

“We had about 200 Boy Scouts, veterans and civilians at the Salisbury National Cemetery Annex that Saturday morning at 8 a.m. to put out about 14,000 flags,” he said. “At the same time, we had about 20 cars of volunteers at the Historic National Cemetery to put out the flags there. Unfortunately, there were no flags to put out, and no one there to direct them.”

Smith said he immediately reached out to Smyre to find out what had gone amiss, and said after talking with him, he feels confident it was a one-time error.

Smyre said he was not aware that volunteers were coming to the Historic Cemetery, only to the annex, and because he believed the flags would have to be placed by the landscapers, he knew that there was nowhere near enough time by 1:30 Friday afternoon to get it done. He added that he is “always, always glad to have any community involvement” and going forward, will.

Queen Williams, one of the volunteers who was at the Historic Cemetery that Saturday to help put out flags, said “it really hurt my feelings when we realized there were no flags, and I had a lot of people reach out and ask what happened,” she said. “I know it was not intentional. But all over the country there were cemeteries filled with flags, and our historic cemetery had none.”

She said she and several others who had a few flags at home went out and put them on as many graves as possible. She noted that it is important for people to remember that the Historic Salisbury National Cemetery is the original graveyard.

“The one where they put all the flags is actually the annex, and if not for those people at the old cemetery who made the sacrifices they did, there wouldn’t be an annex. We need to make sure our voices are heard to show those in that cemetery that they have not been forgotten, that we salute them every day.”