SALISBURY – On Memorial Day, flags have historically been displayed at every grave and along the columbarium in both Salisbury National Cemeteries, but this year the flags did not appear on the graves at Historic Salisbury National Cemetery on Government Road, a situation reported by the Cemetery warden says it will never happen again.
Phil Smyre, who became director after the last Memorial Day celebration three years ago, was planning his first flag ceremony this year since COVID caused a two-year hiatus. He said he contacted a landscaping company to place the flags in the cemetery.
“I knew volunteers from the community were coming to plant the flags in the annex,” he said, “so I contacted them Tuesday before Saturday’s event.” He noted that there were more than 7,000 at the original site graves and that it takes two employees about three days to place all the flags.
On Friday afternoon, around 1:30 p.m., he went to the site and found that no flags were raised, except for the avenue flags that are posted along the street at the entrance.
Staff on site appeared unaware that they should have planted the flags, he said, but when he reached out, a company worker said they gave the direction to their staff assigned to the cemetery.
“It’s just a very unfortunate communication error,” Smyre said, “and we will make absolutely sure nothing like this ever happens again.”
Ronnie Smith, a local resident, veteran, president of the Smith Foundation and organizer of the annual Memorial Day ceremony, said he was surprised by the missing flags but understands things like this happen.
“We had about 200 Boy Scouts, veterans and civilians at the Salisbury National Cemetery Annex at 8am this Saturday morning to raise about 14,000 flags,” he said. “At the same time, we had about 20 volunteer cars at the Historic National Cemetery to raise the flags. Unfortunately there were no flags to hang and no one to direct them.”
Smith said he immediately contacted Smyre to find out what went wrong and said after speaking to him he was confident it was a one-off mistake.
Smyre said he wasn’t aware that volunteers were coming to the historic cemetery, only to the annex, and because he believed the flags would need to be put up by the landscapers, he knew there wasn’t nearly enough time by 1:30 a.m. Friday afternoon to get it done. He added that he’s “always, always happy to get involved in the community” and will continue to do so in the future.
Queen Williams, one of the volunteers who was at the historic cemetery this Saturday to help hang flags, said: “It really hurt me when we realized there were no flags and I had a lot of people who contacted me and asked what happened. She said, “I know it wasn’t intentional. But there were cemeteries full of flags across the country, and our historic cemetery didn’t have any.”
She said she and several others who had some flags at home went out and planted them on as many graves as possible. She noted that it is important to remember that Historic Salisbury National Cemetery is the original cemetery.
“The one where they put up all the flags is actually the annex, and if the people in the old cemetery hadn’t made the sacrifices they did, there wouldn’t be an annex. We must ensure our voices are heard to show those in this cemetery that they have not been forgotten and that we salute them every day.”