Decorating graves at the Kauai Veterans Cemetery

Each Memorial Day, the Kauai Veterans Cemetery is transformed into a showcase of honor, a place where common men and women are remembered as heroes by hundreds of visitors who they’ve never met.

Although total strangers, on this special day these guests visit this — the sacred final resting place of the brave — and pray that their souls have found peace. On this magical day, ordinary men and women are remembered as giants, not because of some sole act of heroism, but because they each represent a generation of patriots who stood up for freedom when history needed another page to be written.

On this solemn day, an American flag is placed at each gravesite beaconing forward the spirit of our beloved brothers and sisters to stir and rise in honor of this occasion. Memorial Day belongs to them, it belongs to their loving families and it belongs to each of us who pause and remember.

But before the ceremonial speeches and endless acknowledgements, much is to be done in preparation. There is grass to be trimmed, gravestones to be cleaned and flowers that must be arranged. Also on this special day flags are permitted to be flown at each gravesite where they flutter in unison to honor the heroes who lay beneath.

After the Memorial Day Observance, more is still to be done as scores of young volunteers walk the cemetery grounds collecting some 2,000 flags which had earlier adorned each grave.

While retrieving the flags may appear abrupt to some, the collection and accountability of these government purchased flags is required for a number of reasons. Most importantly, the flags are government property and are not souvenirs to be taken by guests for later placement back on the grave of a loved one.

Flag protocol requires that flags be displayed in a respectful manner at all times and not be allowed to become wet, soiled, mudded, tattered or touch the ground.

Flags may only be displayed during daylight hours unless properly illuminated and during inclement weather only if constructed of weatherproof material. Once flags are no longer suitable for display they should be destroyed, preferably by burning.

Additionally, unsightly items left at gravesites such as beer cans, glass containers of any kind, statues, vigil lights, pin wheels, balloons, stuffed animals, fishing poles, holiday decorations, pictures, labels and items affixed to headstones are not permitted.

A veterans cemetery is a place of peace, tranquility and reflection befitting the sacrifices of those who rest there. Across America, these hollowed grounds inspire generations of citizens to understand and appreciate the great personal sacrifice required of military service.

These and other violations of decorum and respect for surrounding gravesites inadvertently occur each day at the Kauai Veterans Cemetery by well-intended, but poorly informed families and guests.

Over the coming months, many costly improvements and beautification projects are planned for the cemetery which will result in the necessary enforcement of a “no decoration policy.”

Everyone is asked to understand that while burial in the government owned Kauai Veterans Cemetery is free, there is a high level of decorum that simply must be met.

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Tony Elliott is with the Kauai Office of Veterans Services.

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