MEMORIAL DAY TRIBUTE: Avenue of Flags returns to Park Cemetery

Butch Bodell, who helps lead the annual effort to set up the Avenue of Flags, bears another armload to be set into the lawn at Park Cemetery. (Tom Russo | Daily Reporter)

GREENFIELD — Park Cemetery in Greenfield is once again awash in red, white and blue in observance of Memorial Day.

The Avenue of Flags — an annual display of more than 800 three-by-five-foot American flags — is lining the entrance of the cemetery off State Road 9, on the south side of town.

Fifteen employees of the city’s street department showed up around 8 a.m. Friday to set each flag into its designated post.

The flag display stays up for about two weeks each year, coinciding with Memorial Day.

The spectacular display was originated by the local American Legion Post 119 in the 1970s, and was taken over a few years ago by the Greenfield Veterans Honor Guard.

Each year, the members of the public are invited to purchase flags in honor of veterans who either lived in Hancock County or had ties to the area. The one-time cost of $50 secures a three-by-five-foot flag and post, with a dog tag stamped with the veteran’s name and branch of service.

“You pay one time, and we’ll replace the flags when they become tattered or faded,” said Dave Pasco, a Vietnam Army vet and a member of the Greenfield Veterans Honor Guard.

Pasco said for the first few decades, the flag display was pretty random, but in 2007 the layout was organized so that each flag was listed by a letter and number coordinate, with the flags laid out in ordered rows.

A booklet at the cemetery’s map kiosk lists each flag honoree, both alphabetically by name and numerically by flag number.

“This flag marked B1 will stay right in this spot forever,” said Pasco, as he was overseeing the setting of flags on Friday.

Fellow veteran Butch Bodell, who chairs the flag project, said it’s an honor to help facilitate the patriotic display.

“You gotta step up to honor them. That’s just what you do,” said Bodell, wearing a red Marine Corps ball cap and shirt emblazoned with “USA” on the front.

He and Pasco, both Vietnam vets, leaned on the bed of his black pickup truck Friday to discuss the layout, as the street department workers unloaded numbered flags from a flatbed trailer.

The construction of a storm water drain in the cemetery made this year’s display a little tricky, forcing the installers to relocate a few flags this year.

Tim Boyk, foreman for the street department, said his crew takes a lot of pride in helping with the annual display, which is a labor of love. When it comes to mowing the grass around the flags, crew members remove each flag one by one, stand back and replace them after the mower comes through.

“You hear so many compliments about the flags each year. It’s a neat, neat thing to be a part of,” said Boyk, who remembers one visitor’s comments in particular.

“One gentleman who has been coming every year for about four years said he could not believe how beautiful this was. He said it brings tears to his eyes,” the foreman said.

Pasco also takes a great deal of pride in helping to orchestrate the Memorial Day display.

“Of anything I’ve done in the community in my 50 years here as an adult, this is the thing I’m most proud of by far,” he said

The Greenfield Veterans Honor Guard invites the public to attend a Memorial Day service near the Park Cemetery entrance at 11 a.m. Monday, May 31.

Greenfield Mayor Chuck Fewell will serve as speaker, while the honor guard will provide the playing of “Taps” and a 21-gun salute.

Navigating the way into the cemetery is tricky due to construction on State Road 9, which is closed except for through traffic at the cemetery’s entrance. Visitors can cross over State Road 9 at Tague Street to enter Park Cemetery, at 621 S. State St, or approach from the south.

While it’s too late to purchase flags for this year’s display, orders for next year’s display can be made by calling Bodell at 317-326-2888.

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What: Community Memorial Day service

When: 11 a.m. Monday, May 31

Where: Park Cemetery, 621 S. State St., Greenfield