By Darrell Todd Maurina: CNJ staff writer
Leon Morris wants to hear from local relatives of United States military veterans.
Two local veterans’ groups, Veterans of Foreign Wars Posts 3280 and 3015, coordinate the annual Memorial Day placement of American flags on the graves of Curry County veterans. However, Morris said members of local veterans’ groups often hear from relatives that their father, brother, or grandfather doesn’t have a flag on their grave.
“The only way we can identify a veteran is the headstone, and if for some reason the family has not obtained a military headstone, we don’t know unless the families tell us,” Morris said. “I just want people to know we do this on a voluntary basis and if we miss somebody it’s not intentional.”
Morris, a Vietnam veteran who is commander of VFW Post 3280 and chairman of the Joint Veterans Council, said his post takes care of veterans buried in Lawn Haven Cemetery and some outlying cemeteries in Farwell and Texico. VFW Post 3280 can be reached at 763-5044 and Morris said the Clovis/Portales Elks Lodge 1244 and Disabled American Veterans Post 6 assist VFW Post 3280 in flag placement.
VFW Post 3015 can be reached at 763-6561 and places flags in Mission Garden of Memories Cemetery. Morris said American Legion Posts 117 and 25 as well as AMVETS Post 14 assist VFW Post 3015.
Families should call the veterans’ post responsible for the cemetery where their relative is buried, Morris said; those with relatives buried in outlying cemeteries should call Veterans Service Officer John Fondrick at 762-6185 to arrange a flag placement.
Anyone who served honorably in the United States military is eligible for a flag on their grave, not just those who died in battle, according to Morris.
“I think it’s our way of showing their honor for what they did for serving their country and a lot of them out there didn’t die in combat but they did serve our country and should still be recognized for that,” Morris said.
Dale Huft, a veteran of Operation Southern Watch in Iraq who is commander of VFW Post 3015, said members of his post and other veterans groups get up early Sunday morning the day before Memorial Day to put out the flags.
“We all go out there and on Tuesday afternoon we go out there and take all the flags back down again,” Huft said. “It’s tradition for us. We keep reminding people of what we do so we don’t forget the people who came before us who are no longer here.”
Huft said his post typically puts out about 500 flags in Mission Garden cemetery. Morris said his post puts out about 1,200 flags at Lawn Haven, 80 in Farwell, 60 in the new Texico cemetery and about eight in the old Texico cemetery. All those flags add up to a considerable expense, Morris said. Morris said the local veterans organizations rotate the duty of buying flags from post to post, and usually buy about 1,400 at a time in large lots.
“A lot of people take the flags when they go out to the graves, and that’s fine, but we’d rather they didn’t,” Morris said.
“People can talk to one of the local veterans’ organizations if they want to take a flag and make a donation.”
Morris said the flags are usually good for several years before they need to be retired in a formal ceremony conducted each year at the Elks Lodge around Veterans Day.
“If anyone does have a tattered, torn or unserviceable flag, contact one of your local veterans organizations so we can dispose of it properly,” Morris said.