HANOVER TWP. — “A silent sentinel of freedom.”
That’s how the American flag was described at a flag burial ceremony at Oak Lawn Cemetery on Friday. The ceremony involved lying to rest at least a thousand flags.
The flags were collected by local veteran organizations from veterans’ graves, cremated and replaced with new ones. The old flags’ ashes were buried at the cemetery.
The service was conducted by Ashley American Legion Post 673 in conjunction with Kniffen O’Malley Funeral Homes. The ceremony took place by the cemetery’s flag pole and was surrounded by the graves of veterans. Some of the veterans served in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War.
Cemetery Administrator Charles Prohaska said there are over 1,200 veterans interred in the cemetery. For him, reuniting those resting veterans with the flag they served under was fitting. The timing was also perfect.
“I think the fact that it was held the day before Flag Day is really significant,” he said.
Blue tents were placed so spectators could escape any lingering showers that passed through. Flags lined the roadway of the entrance of the cemetery and welcomed those who entered the cemetery. Members of the Ashley American Legion stood in uniform during the ceremony. Brian Leffler, owner of Kniffen O’Malley Funeral Homes, and Fr. Richard Cirba of St. Leo’s Holy Rosary Parish each spoke during the ceremony.
Cirba called a flag a reminder of the country and the principles that it stands for — freedom, and those who laid down their lives to defend it.
“May we never, ever forget the freedom that the flag stands for,” he said.
The American Legion Post 673 carried out the remainder of the ceremony, including a volley of three shots from rifles and the playing of Taps.
Martha Iben, 50, of Nanticoke, had a personal connection with the ceremony. She brought a flag that was issued to Frank Mihalic for his service during World War II after his death. Iben befriended his widow, Helen, almost four years ago when Helen’s son suddenly passed.
In that friendship, Helen Mihalic passed along a number of belongings to Iben. Some included a lot of photos from that time period, as well as a love letter from Helen to Frank that was over 100 pages long. Helen, 92, passed away in March.
“I was really looking for something respectful to do with the flag, and this was perfect,” Iben said. “I think it’s a wonderful, very solemn and very sacred way of honoring the flags and making sure they’re not desecrated in any way.”
Unfortunately, Iben said she got in touch with officials a little late, and the flag was not cremated with the thousands of others. Instead, she said officials will hopefully include it in next year’s ceremony.
Both Leffler and Prohaska were pleased with the ceremony, but were a little disappointed with the turnout. They each hope to hold another ceremony next year — Prohaska said the cemetery is willing to donate another plot, should plans move forward.