Flag ‘still means a lot to some people’

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Alfred P. Warren, Jr. Vice Commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5377, soaks in the glorious late winter day washing over Memorial Gardens Cemetery and declares, “Tell me this cemetery don’t just cry out for a flag! It’s almost like I could hear it every time I drove by!”

Now, thanks to the members of Post 5377, Memorial Gardens is the first of several area cemeteries to be sporting a new 25-foot flagpole topped by a 4 foot-by-6 foot American flag.

The flagpole at Memorial Gardens was erected Saturday. Others are scheduled to follow in the coming weeks.

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Suddenly Warren frowns. He points toward a row of small flags flapping in the breeze and shakes his head. The flags mark the graves of military veterans. Most are in bronze holders marked “Veteran” provided by Post 5377. Several, though, are simply stuck in the ground.

“That’s not good,” Warren explains. “According to flag etiquette you’re not supposed to just stick the flag in the ground, because it might fall over. And, of course, you don’t want the flag ever to touch the ground, much less just lay there in the dirt. The Stars and Stripes still mean a lot to some people, you know.”

For Warren and others like him, the flags are a way to honor those who have served their country in uniform. It is estimated that World War II era veterans are dying at the rate of more than 1,100 a day. That figure has added a sense of urgency to Warren’s efforts and those of his fellow Post members.

“I’m 77,” Warren said. “The guy who designed the Veterans Memorial we just put up outside the courthouse in Linden is 80. We’re all just a bunch of old geezers who probably ought to be in a nursing home someplace. My wife asked me why I was the one doing all this. I told her, ‘If I don’t do this, who would?'”

Warren recalls that while helping to erect the flagpole at Memorial Gardens, he and the others encountered the widow of veteran who had been unable to obtain the bronze plaque promised to all veterans for her husband’s grave.

“I’m not one to just let something like that go,” he sighs. “I told her I’d help her with the plaque, and we gave her one of the flag holders for his grave. Then three of us came over and saluted when we had it up…. That poor woman. She just stood there and cried.

“I guess I’m a sucker when a woman starts crying. Everybody’s got their weakness. That’s mine. I’m just an old veteran who spent more time working for the government than I ever did in the military, but I still get goosebumps when I see that flag.”