It was a solution to a problem so genius, and yet so simple it makes one wonder why someone didn’t think of it before. Frankie Hierbe thought of it and it has become a welcomed and very popular idea.
So much so that his next call might be to the U.S. patent office.
There are more than 3,000 veterans are buried at Woodland Park Cemetery, and on holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day, local veterans groups and families honor them with the placement of U.S. flags, typically small stars and stripes banners attached to wooden sticks stuck into the ground beside the gravemarker.
There are rules to follow at the city-owned and operated cemetery. Regarding flags the rules state:
“Flags may be displayed in either city-approved vases attached to the grave marker, plastic sleeves adjacent to the grave marker as installed by cemetery personnel or in other flag holders that may be provided by veterans’ organizations. Flag holders are also available at no cost at the cemetery office. Flags placed on individual gravesites shall be no larger than 10” X 16” in size, and not to exceed 3 feet in height. Cemetery personnel will pick up all flags as they become torn, tattered or faded and these flags will be delivered to the local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post once a month for proper disposal.”
Along with veterans, local firefighters also honor their members who have answered the final bell with flag placements on special holidays. Flags can be placed at a gravesites at anytime.
Flags would sometimes be placed and left in a manner that left them prone to damage from mowers and grass trimmers. Some would break, lean or completely fall over, and in time some flags left for long periods would no longer look good.
Plus going through and placing thousands of flags on holidays can prove difficult when the ground is hard and dry, which is often the case in Mineral Wells.
Hierbe, a longtime city employee who recently took over as the cemetery’s supervisor after the retirement of Marshall Downs, came up with an inexpensive, yet effective permanent solution – metal flag holders shaped to fit snugly next to and over a marker with two holes drilled into them that allows for easy placement, and removal, of a flag on a small wooden stick.
Because the holders place the flags directly over a marker, they are out of the way of maintenance workers when mowing and trimming.
“Me and my boys made these,” said Hierbe last Sunday, while helping members of Palo Pinto Girl Scouts Service Troop 854 place flags and some of Hierbe’s new holders at veterans gravesites. “We decided to put these out to help keep these flags from being broken. It keeps them intact. We can weed-eat around the flags and make them look nice.”
Hierbe investigated various holders but he said ones he found were not ones the city could afford to buy several thousand of. After salaries, the cemetery’s operating budget for maintenance and operations is about $66,000 annually.
“I saw it in a book,” Hierbe said of what inspired his design. “They had a holder and a vase holder, but it was a little ridiculous (in price) so I said let me see if I can come up with an idea to make it and make it a little cheaper for the city. It will help the veterans and help us make it look nice out here.”
Hierbe found aluminum metal strips, 12 inches in length, three-quarter inches wide and one-eighth inch thick for just 49 cents each. Those are taken to the city maintenance shop, where they are bent three times into an “S” shape. A hole is drilled through the top and middle portions.
The holder is then slipped into the ground right against the marker and the flag inserted through the two holes, left to fly over the marker.
“It works pretty good,” Hierbe said. “It keeps them from damaging the flags.”
When the Index last Sunday published a video and some information about the flag holders, compliments to Hierbe began pouring in on social media. People wanted to know when their loved one’s gravemarker would get a holder.
Hierbe says he and his crew are working on it, but it will take a some time to get all of the holders made and placed.
“We’ve got some more bars coming,” Hierbe said. “We will be making more. Eventually they will all be done.”
Some who don’t have a family member interred at Woodland Park asked if they could get one of Hierbe’s holders for their use.
Hierbe said he will be talking to veterans groups soon and coordinating with them on placement and use of the new holders.
He said he is happy to have come up with an idea that is making a lot of people happy – families and workers – while improving the city cemetery’s look.