Saluting those who ‘never got to take the uniform off’

Grandview Cemetery in La Grande was awash in color at the 2019 annual Avenue of Flags ceremony. This year, American Legion Post 43 has to scale back the event due to the coronavirus crisis.

LA GRANDE — The 37th annual Avenue of Flags at Grandview Cemetery, one of La Grande’s longest-running Memorial Day Weekend events, is scaling back due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event traditionally has featured a Memorial Day ceremony and the display of more than 170 United States flags on staffs along the road at Grandview Cemetery. All are burial flags for American veterans that were donated by their families.

The local Memorial Day ceremony traditionally displayed more than 170 United States flags on poles along the road at Grandview Cemetery. All are burial flags for American veterans that were donated by their families. The event regularly drew more than 100 people and featured a keynote address by a local pastor, the raising of the colors by National Guardsmen and a rendition of the National Anthem.

According to John Craig, commander of American Legion Post 43, which annually helps put on the Avenue of Flags, the Memorial Day ceremony has been canceled due to Gov. Kate Brown’s implementation of social distancing rules, including restrictions she issued last week to limit public gatherings to no more than 25 people.

The number of large flags on displayed will be cut to 30 this weekend. These flags will all be placed around Grandview’s Veterans Circle, a site where veterans are buried.

No other other large flags will be displayed because of the negative economic impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the American Legion Post 43. Craig explained Post 43 has not been able to raise the money it needs to pay to keep the large flags illuminated at night during Memorial Day Weekend. The local post usually rents gas-powered generators to operate the portable lights that illuminate the flags.

American Legion Post 43 raises much of its money for the lighting at its hall, which was not able to operate for two months because of the COVID-19 restrictions. The post wasn’t able to raise money by renting the building out for events such as weddings and anniversaries, Craig said.

Craig said the Veterans Circle flags will be illuminated this year thanks to Eastern Oregon Rental, which will donate portable lights, electrical generators and fuel for them.

A federal resolution, which the American Legion wrote and Congress adopted, requires all American flags on display after dark to be illuminated enough for identification, Lonnie Myers of La Grande American Legion Post 43 said in a previous Observer interview.

Craig said another reason a large number of flags cannot be on display is it would require a large group of people, which would present social distancing issues. Members of American Legion Post 43 will put up the flags Saturday at the Veterans Circle. They will take them down May 25 at 3 p.m.

In addition to the Veterans Circle flags, members of VFW Post 299 will place small American flags at the headstones of veterans at Grandview Cemetery on Friday and retuned to retrieve the flags after 3 p.m. May 25. Craig added that La Grande American Legion Post 43 will do the same thing at Hillcrest East Cemetery and the Sons of the American Legion will place flags at Hillcrest Cemetery.

Craig said it is important to have at least a scaled back Avenue of Flags this weekend at Grandview to keep its tradition alive.

“We want to sustain our commitment to honoring veterans,” Craig said.

General assignment reporter

Beats include the communities of North Powder, Imbler, Island City and Union, education, Union County veterans programs and local history. Dick joined The Observer in 1983, first working as a sports and outdoors reporter.

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