East TN Veterans Day flag tradition in danger

11:53 PM, Nov 9, 2010   |    comments
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Volunteers who perform the service of putting American flags on grave sites at the East Tennessee State Veterans' Cemetery in Knoxville have been told that breaks a Federal regulation.

"The Tennessee Department of Veteran's Affairs, through Bill Griffith, the director here at the Cemetery said we would not put the flags out this year," said Army Veteran Rick Phillips.

Phillips, the son of a World War II Air Force Veteran who is buried at the cemetery, has coordinated the cemetery's Veterans Day ceremony for the past 20 years.  That includes arranging volunteers to place flags on more than 5,000 grave markers. 

This year, the VA is enforcing, what Phillips and Griffith said is part of the Federal Floral Regulations, that small flags shall only be on display for the Memorial Day Holiday.  Griffith said it is a Federal rule that the state follows.  Signs are posted throughout the cemetery. 

"It's probably won't happen next year unless the people of Tennessee lobby their legislature," said Phillips.

Phillips said he isn't sure why the state is suddenly enforcing the rule after all this time.  When he found out, he took matters into his own hands, and contacted the VA in Nashville to get answers.  Instead, he was granted a one-time waiver so the flags can be put up this year.

"We will be the only cemetery in Tennessee that will be allowed to do that," said Phillips about the cemetery's Veterans Day flag display.

Some volunteers who work with children who place the flags on the graves every year are not happy with the possibility the tradition could end after this year.

Army Veteran, Kathy Winters, has a grandson who is a Young Marine flag volunteer. "It's dishonoring our vets, but it's also forgetting our vets," she said.

"A Federal regulation that does not allow flags on gravesites in a Veterans' cemetery on Veteran's Day is ridiculous," said Cub Scout leader Dean Newton.

Newton and Winters were also disappointed the kids they work with couldn't put up the flags last weekend.  Griffith said he made the decision to let the flags to up Wednesday instead because his crews needed time to clean headstones, and manicure the grounds in time for Veterans Day.  He said they can't do that with the flags in the ground.

10News contacted the VA in Nashville about this story but did not get a call back Tuesday evening.

Phillips said the Veterans Day ceremony at the cemetery will go on next year, even if there are no flags on the graves.

"I scratch my head and wonder why, but being an old military person myself, you know, that's the order, so you have to obey," said Phillips.

He also said, volunteers are needed to help put up flags this year.  Anyone interested in helping out should show up at the East Tennessee State Veterans' Cemetery off of Lyons View Pike in West Knoxville at 3 p.m. Wednesday, November 10, 2010.

The Veteran's Day ceremony at the cemetery, with grave site flags for what could be the last time, is scheduled for 2 p.m., Thursday, November 11, 2010.

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