EXETER, R.I. (WPRI) – Months after disturbing images of torn and tattered American flags surfaced on social media, changes are being made at the Rhode Island Veterans Cemetery to protect the flag and what it symbolizes.
The photos, showing piles of American flags on the ground at the veterans cemetery, went viral last summer.
“It just broke my heart because everyone in this cemetery fought under that banner and every fiber of that flag is their blood, sweat, and tears,” Stan Sniezyk said late last June.
The veterans cemetery located in Exeter receives thousands of flags that need to be retired. After last summer, there are new policies in place to ensure the flags are handled properly.
“We did an internal investigation, and come to find out that we weren’t doing the proper procedures internally,” said Kasim Yarn, Rhode Island’s Director of Veterans Affairs. “That was a defining moment for our cemetery.”
Director Yarn promised change after he was alerted to the improper treatment of flags last year.
Since that Eyewitness News report aired, Director Yarn now does weekly inspections, and there are new procedures for flag intake and storage.
“It puts controls in place to ensure instances like this don’t happen again,” says Director Yarn.
Eyewitness News got a look at where the flags are stored and set for retirement. Each of these flags is now tracked by a new ‘flag retirement delivery form.’
“There’s a custody chain for every time a flag is handed off inside our organization, someone signs for it,” says Director Yarn.
The cemetery’s new administrator, Cara Condit, trained her staff on the updated flag policies.
“It’s kind of been an all around approach, not just on the intake, but our etiquette in general at the cemetery,” says Condit.
Director Yarn says their efforts are working.
“We have mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, that are buried in this facility and it’s a tremendous honor to ensure that we maintain our grounds with the utmost respect.”
The office of Veterans Affairs has partnered with the local American Legion outlet and Boy Scout troops to conduct flag retirement ceremonies at the cemetery.