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Memorial Day festivities uncertain, but hundreds of veterans' graves get U.S. flags thanks to volunteers

By Dan Miller

danmiller@pressandjournal.com

717-944-4628
Posted 5/16/20

Middletown might not have much of a Memorial Day tribute this year — if any at all — because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the graves of hundreds of veterans buried in the Middletown …

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Memorial Day festivities uncertain, but hundreds of veterans' graves get U.S. flags thanks to volunteers

Posted

Middletown might not have much of a Memorial Day tribute this year — if any at all — because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the graves of hundreds of veterans buried in the Middletown Cemetery between North Spring and Union streets still will be decorated with fresh new U.S. flags, thanks to Tom Nezovich and his son Robert.

Robert is an assistant Scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 594, based at the Middletown American Legion 594 Post. Tom is also affiliated with Boy Scout Troop 594. He is committee chairman for the troop.

Each year, a few weeks before Memorial Day, the Boy Scouts come out to the cemetery to place the flags that the Legion provides at the graves of the veterans. 

A woman who works at the cemetery couldn’t provide an exact number for how many veterans are buried there. But about 800 to 1,000 flags are brought out each year and “they pretty much use all of them,” she said.

The fresh flags make the cemetery look especially patriotic for each year’s Memorial Day observance, from the red, white and blue adorning the Civil War graves on the North Union Street side, clear west to the newer part of the cemetery down by North Spring.

Robert was actually surprised at the number of veterans buried in the newer part of the cemetery. It was the last part he had done.

“I’m getting blisters from doing this all day, I put so many flags out,” he said.

The Boy Scouts were supposed to put the flags out early Saturday morning. But a few days ago, Robert said he had heard that the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs had “decided that the Boy Scouts are not allowed to put flags out on the graves of our country’s veterans” because of the pandemic.

“I just thought that was ridiculous, so I decided I would spend my day out here doing it myself, then he (Tom) said he would come out and help me,” Robert said. A few other people assisted as well, including a young girl who “helped us out quite a bit.”

Joan Nissley, a spokeswoman with the Pennsylvania DMVA, told the Press & Journal that it had never issued such a prohibition.

“We have never said that and have not been asked that,” she said.

“We have no position on it. We don’t oversee cemeteries or putting up flags” and DMVA has no jurisdiction over private cemeteries like the Middletown Cemetery, Nissley said.

Tony DiFrancesco, director and service officer for Dauphin County Veterans Affairs, also said he knows of no restriction in place regarding placing the U.S. flags on the graves of veterans at cemeteries in the county.

The federal Veterans Administration this past week did say that groups such as the Boy Scouts will not be permitted to place flags at the graves of veterans at national cemeteries such as the one at Fort Indiantown Gap in Lebanon County, because of the pandemic.

But that has nothing to do with the placing of flags at other cemeteries throughout the county, DiFrancesco said.

“The towns and boroughs of the state are free to do as they feel is right and safe for all local veterans graves,” he told the Press & Journal in an email.

Tom and Robert are both veterans. Tom served in the Air Force from 1979 to 1986.

Robert is an aviation mechanic in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. An American flag is tattooed on his right arm.

“It’s just something nice to do for all the veterans that gave their lives for our country selflessly sacrificing for our freedom,” Robert said of the tradition of placing the flags at the veterans’ graves. “Hopefully we can continue that in the future.”