By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
KANSAS CITY — The Legacy Garden at Mt. Olivet and at Resurrection cemeteries will offer United States armed forces veterans, police, fire and first responders final memorial resting sites dedicated in their honor. After asking veterans what kind of memorial they would wish for, the Legacy Garden sites were dedicated Nov. 11, 2011, and a marker placed at both cemeteries to commemorate the dedication.
At ceremonies July 21 at both cemeteries, 149 frayed, torn and faded U.S., state, POW and MIA flags were respectfully destroyed as instructed in the United States Flag Code. The flag is an emblem of the United States and as such should not be just thrown away. The Code states, “The Flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem of display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”
The first flag disposal ceremony at the Legacy Gardens was under the direction of Joe Harris, diocesan director of Catholic cemeteries, Steve Pierce, director of Muehlebach Funeral Home, and Charlie Passantino, director of Passantino Brothers Funeral Home.
A small group of people who had brought worn out flags to be burned, several veterans, boy scouts and girl scouts, sat under a tent and watched as Austin Muehlebach, Jonathon and Chase Torgerson, the color guard from Boy Scout Troop 601 from St. Thomas More Parish, followed Sons of the American Revolution James Scott and Robert Grover, wearing powdered wigs, knee breeches, stockings and buckled shoes, to a cordoned-off rectangular gravesite near the Legacy Garden dedication marker. The gravesite will be a permanent dedicated site for all future flag disposal ceremonies.
Captain Roy Nelson and a uniformed honor guard from American Legion Post 189 in Lee’s Summit marched onto the site. American Legion Chaplain Tom Kolenda led a prayer to begin the disposal rite.
Those present had come “to consecrate this present hour,” he said, “to honor flags worn out in service. It is right to destroy flags deemed no longer serviceable.”
Americans show respect and honor for the flag, the narrator, Fred Price, said, “It is a symbol of America, a symbol of freedom, justice and democracy. The 50 white stars fill the blue field which represents the sky, from where the nation is watched over by God. The red stripes represent the blood of our forefathers, who gave their lives in the founding and struggle of the new country. The white stripes boldly proclaim the peace” of America.
Price said, “The flag has welcomed any and all to the United States in the name of liberty, and it is the most well known and displayed banner in the world. But its real value is beyond price. The flag serves as the ultimate reminder of the blood, sweat and tears of those who fought and still fight for liberty and democracy. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America …”
Captain Nelson hefted a long pole and gently lifted the first flag off a table. Wisps of white smoke were dancing around the opening of the site, in which a fire had been lit. As Capt. Nelson let the tattered, faded flag drop onto the flames, black smoke began to rise. The Boy Scouts then took over the ceremony and the pole, carrying the worn out flags one by one to the fire site and gently depositing them on the flames. Smaller scouts were assisted by older Scouts. Some of the veterans and two Girl Scouts also participated. Members of the American Legion honor guard, the veterans and the Sons of the American Revolution stood at attention during the ceremony. At its conclusion, two honor guard members played Taps and the honor guard fired a military salute.
Steve Pierce of Muehlebach Funeral Home said the Legacy project is progressing, and fund raising efforts have begun.
Joe Harris said that it had been hoped construction would have begun on the Legacy Garden memorials already, but on Sept. 14, the surveying company delivered the blue prints. Catholic Cemeteries Associated can now take bids for the concrete work — the memorials’ foundations and sidewalks. Harris planned to start sending out the blueprints for bidders this week.
Pierce said he was hoping to break ground and begin the first stages of construction shortly.
Harris agreed. “I hope to have the concrete poured for the foundations and sidewalks by Veterans Day, Nov. 11,” he said. “Then we can set the flag poles and have the electrical wiring for the digital monuments installed. The black granite monuments are being cut, as we speak, at stone cutters in China.”
The Veterans Memorial monuments, 6’ x 4’ blocks of polished black granite, will be laser engraved with the veterans’ or first responders’ names. For about $250, Pierce said, a plaque containing photos, service dates and date of death if applicable can be placed on the memorial with a QR code, which can be scanned into a smart phone. A visitor will then be redirected to a website controlled by the family of the veteran or first responder, to learn more about him or her. The websites will include music, slide shows or videos; a way to memorialize deceased veterans and allow living veterans to tell their own story.
Links to the websites can be put on Facebook, he added.
For the moment, the Legacy Gardens have been professionally surveyed and plotted, and plots are available. Each garden will have about 2,000 gravesites, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars will provide flat bronze on granite markers for veterans at no charge.
Pierce said the Legacy Gardens will be a great way to honor those who serve their country and its people — military veterans, first responders and their spouses.