Avenue of Flags honors veterans

Published 9:21 am Monday, May 31, 2010

For over two decades the Avenue of Flags has been a patriotic part of Albert Lea cemeteries on Memorial Day.

The concept for this particular salute came in the fall of 1986 and was explained by the late Roger Bergeson with these comments: “(What we propose) is a plan to place the flags on 18-foot poles on either side of the roadway surrounding the veterans’ plots at Graceland Cemetery. The flagpoles will be placed 25 feet apart. This program would replace the current program of placing a short, round veterans marker at each gravesite on Memorial Day.”

Reasons cited by Bergeson for this proposed change were the increase in the number of deceased veterans, the increase in the cost of purchasing the bronze markers, the difficulty in locating all the veterans’ gravesites, and the increasing age of the veteran volunteers placing the small markers and flags. Also, there was the unhappy dilemma of possibly missing the gravesites of some veterans buried in local cemeteries. An added benefit considered by the committee from the city’s three veterans’ organizations was using the flags and poles for use on Memorial Day, plus Flag Day in June, Fourth of July and possibly Labor Day.

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The original committee members promoting this Avenue of Flags were Jack Kipp and Bergeson from Leo Carey Post 56 of the American Legion, Melvin Kopischke and Lewis Opdahl from Glaydon Iverson Chapter 16 of the Disabled American Veterans, and Dennis Hamborg and John Rasmussen from Freemond Madson Post 447 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Their initial plan was to have the Avenue of Flags installed at Graceland Cemetery, then hopefully expand the concept to include the other three Albert Lea cemeteries. This program would require financial participation by the public, friends and families of veterans, area organizations and clubs, business firms, union locals and church groups. The cost at that time was $50 each for a flag and pole set.

By March 1987, the initial goal of 100 sets of flags and poles to be used at Graceland Cemetery had been achieved. Then the drive was continued for more Avenue of Flags to be installed at Lakewood Cemetery, St. Theodore’s Cemetery and what’s now Hillcrest Cemetery. Thus, the city’s first Avenue of Flag became a reality at Graceland Cemetery for Memorial Day 1987, and at the other three cemeteries a year or two later.

Presently, the flags and poles are stored in three custom-made trailers that are kept in the basement of the American Legion building.

A fourth trailer is used for equipment storage. There are 155 flags and poles kept in plastic tubes in the trailer for Graceland Cemetery. The trailer used for the Lakewood and St. Theodore’s has 150 flag and pole sets. And the trailer for Hillcrest Cemetery also has 150 flag and pole sets.

Volunteers from the American Legion set up the Avenue of Flags at Graceland Cemetery. The VFW is charge of the installations at Lakewood and St. Theodore’s, and the DAV handles Hillcrest Cemetery.

The present schedule for installing the flags at the cemeteries is based on having them installed a few days prior to Memorial Day, then take them down a few days later. Thus, damages from rain and wind, plus sunlight, can be diminished and the flags will last much longer to be used for Avenues of Flags in the future.