It's the first impression many have as they enter the Leavenworth National Cemetery during the Memorial Day holiday.
And now that first impression will fit the occasion, according to cemetery officials, following a public outpouring of support for an effort to replace the “avenue of flags” that greets visitors to the Leavenworth facility during a number of holidays, from Veterans Day to Memorial Day to Fourth of July.
The effort began with Mike Bricker, the foreman for the cemetery who represents the facility on the Leavenworth Memorial Day Committee. He said he mentioned the condition of the 75 existing cotton American flags that line the entrance of the facility during one of the committee's meeting.
“They're not meant to even fly, they were designed strictly to go on a casket, they're made of cotton and they stretch when they get wet and when they're wet too long they get tattered,” said Bill Owensby, the director of the Leavenworth National Cemetery Complex that includes the national cemeteries here and on Fort Leavenworth as well as the cemetery at Fort Scott, Kan. “It was just very hard to keep them from tattering so fast.”
Furthermore, Owensby said the facility, part of the federal government, is prohibited from buying the replacement flags themselves.
“We cannot spend government money buying flags for the avenue,” he said.
Dallas Eubanks, the chairman of the Memorial Day committee, said that's when the committee decided to pitch in, leading the effort to raise the money to purchase 75 new flags better suited to withstand the weather and line the avenue. He said he went first to the veterans' service organizations, then wrote a letter to the editor in the Leavenworth Times. They didn't have to wait long for a response.
“We were getting everything from $10 checks from people on fixed income to larger organizations giving us money to the Leavenworth community service organizations that gave us a large donation from individuals collected up,” he said. “So in three weeks time, I think we were able to collect a little more than $2,000.”
That was enough to purchase the flags needed for the existing avenue. And in a time frame that Eubanks said took even him by surprise.
“We kind of thought we would get them by July 4, to be honest,” he said.
Eubanks said the effort actually raised more than what was needed to replace the existing flags, so the plan is to continue raising money for another long-held hope of the cemetery.
“They said they've always wanted to expand that avenue,” he said.
Page 2 of 2 - Owensby said the new avenue will likely make for a striking experience for those coming into the cemetery for special events, including Monday's Memorial Day observance. He said he's proud of the new look.
“I overstepped myself and asked them to put them out early because I knew I was going to be beautiful,” he said. “It sure has brightened my spirits coming in every morning.”
Eubanks said the quick success of the effort is an indication, for him, of the way that the Memorial Day committee and the cemetery administration work together, as well as the attitude of the community toward the facility.
“It shows the patriotism and what the cemetery means to the people of Leavenworth County,” he said.