One of the great traditions of the upcoming Memorial Day holiday weekend is the planting of flags by various veterans’ groups along with the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and citizens who volunteer to help out. 

This year, this isn’t going to happen. According to the National Cemetery Administration, a federal agency that falls within the Veterans Administration and administers the national cemeteries, the Veterans Administration (VA) has prohibited the practice of groups placing flags in our national cemeteries. The VA has already canceled public Memorial Day events, and that includes “mass placement of gravesite flags.” Likewise, the Boy Scouts, through their national headquarters, have banned the Scouts from taking part in ceremonies due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

This will be the first time in decades that the tradition of placing flags on the graves of deceased veterans won’t take place.

While this is understandable considering the situation that not just our nation but the world is facing, the decision isn’t sitting well with some veterans and veterans’ organizations. After all, Memorial Day is reserved for honoring all those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Many veterans stepping up on their own to do what they can. They are encouraging the VA to allow the national cemeteries, at the local level, to determine whether to allow groups, in conjunction with the local health department, to place flags in the cemeteries.

The National Cemetery Administration released the following statement: “Families and community members are welcome to visit national cemeteries throughout Memorial Day weekend and place individual flags on graves to honor friends and family. We ask that all visitors adhere to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), state and local health, safety, and travel guidelines.”

Our little town has several small cemeteries and, near its center, a large one, where two separate cemeteries are co-located. We usually have a large group of veterans from the local VFW, American Legion, and our Veterans Council, who in coordination with the local Troops of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and with civilian volunteers, pick an early Saturday in May to put the flags in our cemeteries. 

This year, like everywhere else, we’re not able to do that. Plus, many of our active vets are advancing in age and have underlying health issues. So, they’re exactly the people that aren’t supposed to be outside, especially in groups. Like in many places, our younger vets, fresh out of the service, don’t choose to get involved. That will change eventually, but for now, it leaves us a bit short-handed.