SUFFOLK COUNTY, NY — Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has continued his fight to honor the fallen with traditional flag placement ceremonies during Memorial Day weekend, despite coronavirus.
Earlier this week, Bellone said coronavirus cannot steal the right to honor veterans with flags on Memorial Day.
During his press briefing Saturday, Bellone said the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, out of an "abundance of caution," has decided that flag placement will not be allowed this year at national cemeteries, including Calverton National Cemetery.
"We cannot allow this virus to stop us from honoring those who have sacrificed for our country," Bellone said.
Last week, Bellone reminded, marked the 75th anniversary of VE Day, the day WWII was won.
"What does it say about our generation if we are not able to figure out a way to safely place flags on the graves of our fallen heroes this Memorial Day?" he asked.
On Friday, Bellone announced a partnership with more than a dozen local cemeteries across the county to place American flags at the gravestones of the nation’s heroes during Memorial Day weekend.
The county will work with local Boy Scout troops and veterans organizations to conduct the group flag placement at non-veteran cemeteries on Saturday, May 23, Bellone said.
As part of the effort, Bellone will join 18-year-old Eagle Scout Kieran Monaghan, a member of Boy Scout Troop 443 from Middle Island, to place a flag at a local, non-veteran cemetery in Babylon.
“This plan demonstrates that we can safely conduct group flag placements to honor our veterans while protecting the public health,” said Bellone. “We are hopeful that the VA will assist our efforts by donating flags that would otherwise be used for their suspended activities at national cemeteries.”
While the traditional group flag placements that have taken place every Memorial Day weekend since 1995 at Calverton National Cemetery and Long Island National Cemetery are currently suspended due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, a total of 15 local cemeteries across 10 townships have agreed to partner with the county.
A list of participating cemeteries is as follows:
- Washington Memorial Park Cemetery, Mt. Sinai
- Union Cemetery, Middle Island
- St. John the Evangelist Parish Cemetery, Riverhead
- Sacred Hearts of Jesus & Mary RC Cemeter, Southampton
- M.t Pleasant Cemetery, Center Moriches
- Huntington Rural Cemetery, Huntington
- Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Coram
- Queen of All Saints Cemetery, Central Islip
- First Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Southold
- Shaarey Pardes Accabonac Grove Cemetery, East Hampton
- St. Ann's Episcopal Church Cemetery, Sayville
- North Babylon Cemetery, Babylon
- Babylon Rural Cemetery, Babylon
- St. Patricks Cemetery, Smithtown
- Our Lady of the Isle Cemetery, Dering Harbor
The Suffolk County Veterans Services Agency is working with local Boy Scout Troops to identify the sites for flag placement and with the Suffolk County Health Department to implement safety measures that meet the current guidance from New York State and the federal government, Bellone said.
Among the safety measures that will be put into place are six-foot separations for flag pick up and mandatory face coverings.
Last week, in light of the decision by the National Cemetery Administration to suspend group flag placement, Bellone wrote a letter to Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie asking for the directive to be amended.
While the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has yet to amend the blanket policy, Bellone has called on the VA to donate the thousands of flags it purchased to local groups participating in similar flag-placing events at non-veteran cemeteries.
Bellone thanked Suffolk County Legislator Susan Berland for raising the issue; he also thanked the thousands of volunteers who work tirelessly to place, and remove, the flags "every year — and who are ready to do it again this year. We can do this, and this can be done safely," Bellone said. "We must do this. This virus has taken a lot from us and we can't allow it to stop us from appropriately honoring America's heroes this Memorial Day weekend."