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Veterans Angry About Cemetery Vandalism

May 27, 1986

MADISON, Wis. (AP) _ Former servicemen and others reacted angrily Tuesday to the burning of more than 500 miniature U.S. flags taken from veterans’ graves hours before Memorial Day ceremonies.

The flags, taken from grave markers throughout Forest Hill Cemetery sometime late Sunday or early Monday, were ″piled on a memorial and torched,″ said Bill Jones, cemetery manager.

Groundskeepers discovered them just before holiday ceremonies Monday, Jones said.

″It’s disgusting. For somebody to do something like this anytime, but on the day before memorial services,″ Jones said.

″I saw an elderly lady with a walker get out of her car, go up to a grave and when she saw what had happened to the flag she started to cry and go back to her car. She was saying ’Pa, Pa,‴ Jones said.

The 10- by 12-inch flags cost about $1.25 each, he said.

Jones, a Korean War veteran, said he has received several calls from veterans, veterans groups and ″people in general″ who are ″infuriated about the incident.

″I heard words I haven’t heard since I was in service,″ Jones said of the callers and Memorial Day visitors.

John Maurer, secretary of the state Department of Veterans Affairs, said the burning was sick and ironic.

″We’ve got some sick people in society,″ Maurer said. ″The thing they don’t realize is that the freedom they have to do and get away with something like this came from the very people whose graves these flags were taken from.″

Victor Hinze, a spokesman for the state Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the incident showed a lack of awareness of ″the pain and agony it’s taken to guarantee this country’s freedom. It’s kind of sacrilegious. It’s disgusting.″

Harold Berge, an officer with the American Legion Local 501 in Madison, said theft of flags is an annual problem, but not vandalism.

″We’ve had flags taken before, by kids, but things have never gone to this extreme - burning an American flag right in the cemetery,″ Berge, a World War II veteran, said.

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