Flags will fly over veterans' graves on Memorial Day
By Randy Bartley
The small American flags fly, row after row, above the grave of every veteran in Clarion County and this year will be no exception.
That may not be true in very county in Pennsylvania however. The flags were a victim of the COVID-19 virus.
Clarion County Affairs Director Judy Zerbe said the manufacturer she uses, Montgomery County-based FlagZone, has been shut down.
"FlagZone was not granted a waiver to open or to even ship the flags that were manufactured and just needed shipped out," said Zerbe. "I think that is very sad. There are counties in Pennsylvania that will not have flags but Clarion is not one of those."
Zerbe explained, "I was able to get flags through a company in Illinois. They are 8x12 (inches)instead of 12x18, the size we usually have. They arrived last Thursday afternoon."
Zerbe, who has been laid-off from the county during the COVID-19 crisis, said, "I sorted them Friday and many of the groups who decorate the cemeteries picked up the flags up on Friday."
Jefferson County Veterans Affairs Director Krupa Steele said she had ordered the flags for the graves in Jefferson County before the shutdown of non-essential businesses in the state.
State Sen. Scott Hutchinson was one of several elected leaders who called on the Wolf Administration to ease the restrictions barring a Pennsylvania flag manufacturer from shipping its products.
"Memorial Day is a sacred holiday. One where we honor the sacrifice made by service members throughout our nation's history," Hutchinson (R-21) said. "I see no reason why the time-honored and solemn tradition of placing flags at veterans' graves could not be continued this year. FlagZone's president said that shipping the flags would require very few staff and could be done safely.
"Certainly placing the flags in cemeteries could be done while practicing the social distancing Governor Wolf recommends. I strongly urge the administration to reconsider FlagZone's waiver application and ensure that all Pennsylvania veterans receive the honors they deserve."
The pressure on Wolf apparently worked as FlagZone was given the OK to return to its offices and ship the flags it already manufactured.
FlagZone pressed for a waiver from the state for weeks following Wolf's closure order on March 20.
According to a published report in American Military News, FlagZone president Daniel Ziegler said he had since won permission to distribute roughly 400,000 flags from the company's factory in Gilbertsville to fulfill orders in other counties in the state and in other states.
Ziegler said "with the help of the counties, and with the help of veterans groups and the help of our local legislators, we were able to get" permission to ship orders for the flags.
"As the administration's main priority is protecting the health and well-being of Pennsylvanians, flag-making operations are thus deemed non-life-sustaining,"Casey Smith, communications director at the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development said in a press release. "While FlagZone will unfortunately need to suspend its operations this year, we are hopeful that in the years to come, it will be able to continue to provide Pennsylvanians with a symbol of our patriotism for future Memorial Day celebrations."
While FlagZone shipped its orders this week, Zerbe acknowledged the flag storage here has been handled.
The flags will be flying in Clarion County," said Zerbe.