Memorial Day snafu left flags off graves

RACHEL WISNIEWSKI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Why weren't there more of these little flags on graves in Forest Hills cemetery for Memorial Day? Blame a snafu.
RACHEL WISNIEWSKI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Why weren't there more of these little flags on graves in Forest Hills cemetery for Memorial Day? Blame a snafu.
Posted: May 30, 2014

MANY MILITARY graves in Huntingdon Valley's Forest Hills Cemetery were insultingly without traditional American flags on Memorial Day, a day devoted to those who gave their all.

Playing out against the backdrop of the Veterans Administration scandal, it makes you wonder if Americans just give lip service to those who gave real service.

Until last year, Montgomery County commissioners supplied about 1,800 American flags to be placed on the graves of veterans at Forest Hills, according to Jimmy Kane. Last year the number of flags was cut to 600, says Kane, 65, quartermaster of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1711 in Jenkintown. He's the guy in charge of placing the flags on veterans' graves.

The order was low, I'm told by Montgomery County communications director Frank X. Custer, because the county provides flags based on the number of military graves the cemetery reports. The county sends out a request for that information each year.

This wasn't always done in the past and Custer says there was a feeling some people were obtaining extra flags and selling them. Although the county wants to honor the fallen, it also wants to protect the taxpayer.

"We do not, and are not, casting aspersions on Mr. Kane," Custer says. "He obviously is dedicated to this effort and his heart is in the right place."

The 600 provided flags, Kane suspects, represents the number of graves in the military-only section. There are about 1,200 more veterans buried in family plots in other parts of the cemetery, adding that he knows this because he "walks the cemetery" and counts every tombstone that notes military service.

When the shortage happened for the first time last year, Kane called Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce Castor, who waved a wand and made an additional 1,200 flags appear. That didn't happen this year.

The cut in the number of flags mystifies a clearly frustrated Kane. "How they think people got up and walked out of their graves, I don't understand."

If the county is required to supply flags for the number of military graves reported by the cemetery, why didn't Forest Hills request the correct 1,800 number?

The cemetery never got the letter from the county, says Forest Hills general manager Scott Nulty, who calls it a missed communication. "I went in on Memorial Day and wondered if the Scouts had even showed up, there were so few flags," he says.

The flags are put out the Saturday before Memorial Day, "rain or shine," says Kane, "because in war the weather doesn't matter." Last Saturday he was helped by some 25 people, including Boy and Girl Scouts, scoutmasters and parents.

It was a shorter day than usual, due to the shortage of flags. That was kind of a disgrace.

To prevent a snafu next year, I'd recommend a face-to-face meeting between Kane and the county director of veterans affairs, Tracy Pennycuick. She's a vet herself, having flown a helicopter in Afghanistan.

I'd trust them to get this mess squared away.

In researching this column, I learned Forest Hills is the resting place of Jack Agnew, an immigrant from Ireland who served with the famed 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles. His group parachuted into Normandy on D-Day, then survived the botched Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands in 1944. His final drop was into Bastogne, surrounded during the Battle of the Bulge. His unit was known as the Filthy Thirteen and their exploits inspired the movie and the novel, "The Dirty Dozen."

I don't know if Agnew's grave was decorated.


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

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