When Prairie Lawn Cemetery sexton Robert Morgan went to work at 7 a.m. Saturday, he discovered nine of the flags in the American Legion Avenue of Flags were ripped from the flagpoles. Some were wadded up and discarded on the ground; others had been shredded, stripe-by-stripe.
Morgan contacted local and county law enforcement as well as Peabody American Legion Post 95 Commander Scott Weber.
Morgan had locked the cemetery gates at 11 p.m. Friday. There was no sign of forced entry, but footprints were later found on the new wall near the gates indicating the vandal or vandals likely entered the cemetery there.
According to Weber, there was no pattern to the desecration of the flags.
“Right away we looked at the names of the veterans on the poles to see if maybe someone had a grudge against a certain family or service branch or something,” he said. “But it was pretty random; like they just walked along, grabbed at the bottom corner and ripped it down and moved on.”
Most of the destroyed flags were burial flags donated by the families of the deceased vets.
“They were the casket flags,” Weber explained; “the flags that draped the casket during the funeral service and then were folded and presented to the family after the service.”
He said many families keep the casket flags, but have the legion purchase a flag for their loved one for the Avenue of Flags.
The legion committee in charge of flag purchases has begun ordering flags with more nylon content because they are more weatherproof and dry faster. The older, all-cotton flags do not have as long a life span. The flags that were destroyed were the older cotton variety.
“We think, because they were cotton, they might have been easier to rip apart,” Weber said.
The legion post had just enough flags on hand Saturday morning to replace the destroyed flags.
“That took all of the reserves we had, however,” he said.
Donations and various legion fundraisers support the Avenue of Flags. Each deceased veteran buried at Prairie Lawn Cemetery is entitled to a flag, pole, and nameplate. A spotlight illuminates each flag so the display remains visible for the whole Memorial Day weekend.
Anyone wishing to contribute to the replacement cost of the nine flags may do so in care of the Peabody State Bank, 201 N Walnut St, Peabody KS 66866.
“Donors need to be sure to make their checks payable to Avenue of Flags because that fund is entirely separate from any other American Legion account,” Weber noted.
Jim Philpott, Marion County Sheriff’s Officer, said Tuesday morning that the investigation is ongoing.