By Santiago J. Betancourt
State Legislative Chairman – Sons of the American Legion Detachment of Texas
This past week, Texans celebrated America’s Independence Day with their families and friends in community barbecues and parades all across our great state. While attending these events there was an attitude of thankfulness for our freedoms, rights and values that only we get to claim as Americans and are endowed by creator.
As celebrations started across the state there were sobering reminders at parades and family functions that soldiers died, fought or are fighting for those unique principles that continue to thrive in our great land.
Before our national holiday, our committee received a call from a group of our membership in The Sons of the American Legion in Texas informing us that the cemetery board in Mineral Wells was regulating, to a large degree, when and how families could place flags at the grave sites of our American heroes. In my capacity as the legislative chairman I had our committee look into this matter and charged them with finding out how we could suggest that this matter be resolved for the city, our veterans and their families.
In our examination of the issue over the holiday, we found that there should be some solid policies in place as the cemetery requires, but also a dignified approach to how to handle such a delicate event of a loved one dying at home and/or the battle fields where our soldiers find themselves engaged around the world.
Our inspiration for our suggestions, came from our trip in February to Arlington National Cemetery where we saw the dignified manner of the sacred grounds of our nations fallen and the care that the cemetery took to preserve the grounds for generations to remember and study the heroes of our past and present.
We took what we learned from that trip and used it to look at all sides of this issue and came up with what we believe are reasonable solutions to the amended policy:
• Veteran’s families should be allowed to place American flags at any veteran’s grave marker at the cemetery at any point in time but that the notice be given that after placement of the flag it will only be allowed to remain in place one week after placement.
• Veterans groups, civic organizations or citizens may place a flag by the marker one week before a national holiday or a veterans-related memorial day and that the flags will remain one week after the holiday has ended. (Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, death date of a soldier or on special occasions as specified by the cemetery or the city.)
• The service project by an eagle scout in Mineral Wells to honor our veterans by placing a plastic pipe for flags should be allowed to be used to have the flags in place in order for uniformity and to make sure that the grounds at the cemetery are kept up neatly. Families and groups should be educated on this matter if the policy goes into effect.
• The grounds personnel should be allowed to remove the flags if they are obstructing their ability to perform their duties.
We [the legislative committee] understand that these policies (“suggestions”) are the responsibilities of the board and the city council to approve. We do not suggest in any manner that the original policies were intended for any malicious intent towards veterans or their families and that it was just a problem of not reading what the ordinance entailed on the issue of graveyard memorials for veterans. The intent of the ordinance had merit to preserve the grounds of the cemetery, but went further than many had liked when it came to the preservation of the memory of veterans sacrifice to our great country.
As chairman of this committee, I thank the mayor, city council, cemetery board and the cemetery itself for stepping up to the plate and fixing the issue that is near to many people as they see their family members overseas and past services as something that should be honored and cherished forever. Their duty and their sacrifice is why we are able to discuss this issue and get it resolved in a swift, polite and respectful manner. We ask that those involved look at our “suggestions” and bring this to a quick resolution.
The Sons of The American Legion was created in 1932 as an organization within The American Legion. The S.A.L. is made up of men of all ages whose parents or grandparents served in the United States military and became eligible for membership in The American Legion. Together, members of The American Legion, The American Legion Auxiliary and the Sons of The American Legion make up what is known as The American Legion Family. The Detachment of Texas has a membership of 6,500 members and assists veterans across Texas with programs and service projects that they consider vital to helping the nearly 7 million veterans in Texas.
For more information on the Sons of the American Legion or the Legislative Committee please email the chairman at email@example.com or at (512) 731-5958 or at saltexas.org.