Letter to the Editor: Flagging Military Graves, a Sacred Duty

by | May 28, 2021

Back about 20 years ago, my friend Sally Sarlitto was taking an evening walk in Glenwood Cemetery about this time of year. There was a man flagging graves with American flags. She asked what he was doing and he explained that members of the American Legion Post 15 East Greenwich honored fallen veterans each year by replacing the worn flags on the graves with new flags in the cemeteries of East Greenwich for Memorial Day. He was alone, the task took a lot of time and effort, and through conversation, Sally offered to find a way to help with the flagging of 1,200-plus graves.  

Sally asked me if the Boy Scouts of Troop 2 East Greenwich – my sons were members of the troop – would be interested in a community service project. The Troop already flagged the Veterans Cemetery in Exeter each Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. Not being member of the Legion, nor veterans, but knowing the significance, my husband and I took on the responsibility of ordering and picking up the flags each year, as well as finding volunteers to help remove and replace the flags.   

There have been many volunteers over the years to help with this important task. Sally and Dave Sarlitto have flagged Glenwood Cemetery, the Swedish Cemetery on Division Street and the historic cemetery on Cedar Avenue for the past 20 years. With the Scouts from Troop 2, past and present, my husband Chris and I have flagged East Greenwich Cemetery, St. Patrick’s Cemetery, and all the small, historic cemeteries in town.  Graves are of those who served in the War of the Revolution, War of 1812, the Civil War, World Wars 1 & 2, the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, Iraq and Afghanistan. We are grateful to Kyle Kenyon and Kaelan Coates who have compiled a database requested by the Office of Veteran Affairs. Thanks goes out to Jim Bessell, administrator of the Rhode Island Veterans Cemetery in Exeter for his guidance. 

This year, thanks to Mark Newton, Andy, Jen and Aubri Martone, Dave and Sally Sarlitto, and the groundskeepers of East Greenwich and St. Patrick’s Cemeteries. Thank you to those who clean up and maintain these eternal places of rest. And most of all, thank you to the men and women who have served our country. This is the least we can do to honor them. 

Claudia M Smith lives in East Greenwich.

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Alan Clarke
Alan Clarke
May 29, 2021 10:02 am

One of our country cemeteries is so poor and destitute that I walked in the field for almost an hour looking for it until I saw a fairly new flag sticking out of the ground. They had found it. Big cheers to those who put flags on our graves. Even if the cemetery is so trashed by the ages it’s hard to tell what it is, they put a flag there. Now I have to find it again to put a sign on it.

Claudia M Smith
Claudia M Smith
May 29, 2021 2:26 pm
Reply to  Alan Clarke

Alan, please get in touch with me. [email protected]

June 1, 2021 2:02 pm

For a period of 5 to 7 years, in the early to mid 80’s, my sister and I had Glenwood Cemetery with my grandfather. We would go to the Legion Hall in the morning and load the trunk of his Buick with flags. He would suggest the other volunteers take the larger two cemeteries. Back then there would be 40 to 50 volunteers. He would park that Buick at one end Glenwood and set us off, a pair of vice grips for the occasional stuck flag. He would move the car a couple of times as we worked our way through Glenwood. We would then head over to First Ave to see if we could help the last quarter of the cemetery if needed. Then to the Legion Hall to strip the old flags from the poles. All those New England victory garden farmers/veterans would take their share of the old poles to stake their tomato plants. Never imagined those 10 to 14 Saturdays(it was Memorial Day and Veterans Days back then, not sure if it still is), for 5 hours would bring such a smile 35 years later.


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