It has just been announced that the Boy Scouts will not be able to carry out their longstanding tradition of putting American flags on the graves of veterans on Memorial Day this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The announcement has already been met with some backlash from those who feel that the Boy Scouts should be allowed to move forward with the patriotic tradition, despite COVID-19.
Fox News reported that the Boy and Girl Scouts have been putting American flags on the graves of military veterans on Memorial Day for decades as a show of appreciation for the sacrifices they have made for their country. This year, however, the Department of Veterans Affairs has banned public events at veteran cemeteries due to COVID-19.
Long Island, New York has over 500,000 veterans buried at two national military cemeteries, and calls are growing to have the VA reconsider the ban. “If we can’t figure out a way to make sure we are placing flags at their graves to honor them, then something is seriously wrong,” said Suffolk County executive Steve Bellone, who lives in the county that houses the Calverton and Long Island National Cemeteries. These two cemeteries hold more veterans than any other military cemetery in the nation, including Arlington National Cemetery.
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Bellone went on to say that he is sure there is a solution to this that will allow the Boy Scouts to plant the flags and be safe at the same time. “What we’re asking the VA to do is, rather than have a blanket policy across the country, allow the national cemeteries at the local level, to make this determination in conjunction with the local health department,” he said. “We will take the responsibility to say that this flag placement plan meets the state and national guidelines but give us that opportunity to do it, allow us to honor our fallen heroes.”
Eagle Scout Kieran Monaghan, 18, has taken part in this tradition for the past five years, and his confidence that his troop can do it again this year if the ban is lifted. “It’s definitely a very emotional, kind of moving experience. Personally, my Dad is a veteran,” Monaghan explained. “He was deployed in Iraq for a year. It’s good to be able to pay our respects to our fallen heroes, it’s important to me, it’s important to the Boy Scouts, it’s important to the community and it’s something that I would hate to see go.”
The U.S. National Cemetery Administration, the federal agency within the VA that operates the cemeteries, responded to these calls by saying that due to the “national emergency, VA national cemeteries will not be hosting public Memorial Day events,” and that includes “mass placement of gravesite flags.”
“Long Island has not yet met the state criteria for re-opening, which is why limits on social gatherings on Long Island are still in place,” the agency added, going on to say that, “families and community members are welcome to visit national cemeteries throughout Memorial Day weekend and place individual flags on graves to honor friends and family. We ask that all visitors adhere to CDC, state and local health, safety, and travel guidelines.”
Monaghan said that while he understands where the VA is coming from, he feels that the tradition can still be carried out by the scouts while they also observe social distancing guidelines. “It is understandable to a point, but I don’t think that it is unreasonable to be able to put a plan together to be able to still accomplish the same thing we have done year after year, still following social distancing guidelines, having everybody masked up, with gloves on. It’s definitely doable,” he said.
“We just commemorated VE Day, this is the generation that lived through the adversity of the Great Depression, they won World War Two,” Bellone added. “What is it going to say about our generation if we can’t figure out a way to honor the greatest generation by placing flags at their graves on Memorial Day?”
In the end, all the Boy Scouts want to do is honor the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifices for the rest of our freedoms. “I hope we are able to put the flags down on the graves and pay our respects,” Monaghan said.
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