It’s an annual recognition that almost didn’t happen in time for Memorial Day this year.

A flag is placed on a gravesite at Mt. Lebanon Cemetery on Saturday, one of more than 2,000 placed at that cemetery alone by volunteers coordinated by the Lebanon Veterans’ Advisory Council.

As County Commissioner Chairman Bob Phillips noted at last week’s commissioners’ meeting, “super patriot” Bonnie Loy was the first to push for an alternative plan to realize the Lebanon Veterans’ Advisory Council’s annual flag placing ceremony.

“Originally we were not going to be getting these flags until after July 4th and missing some very important events and timeframes for veterans and their families to be acknowledged,” said Phillips at the meeting.

The organizers huddled and came up with a new plan – a different flag order would be made, one that could be fulfilled in time. With logistics systems disrupted by the pandemic, the task of finding the flags fell to Lebanon County Veterans Affairs Director Scott Kohr who had to locate thousands of them in time for this weekend.

“This all happened in about two or three days,” said Phillips, “so hats off to them for stepping up in this very difficult time to make something happen which is very important to many Lebanon Countians.”

That was on Thursday, but from there the real labor was just beginning.

The flag placing ceremony was carried out despite logistical challenges presented by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The Lebanon Veterans’ Advisory Council is responsible for the annual flag placing ceremony, which sees flags placed at more than 5,400 veterans’ graves across the county. These sites range from single person plots on family farms to the largest, Mt. Lebanon, which is the eternal home of more than 2,000 veterans. All together, 33 cemeteries across the county are included.

Program manager Jeff Sonnen told LebTown that this year, there was a bit more pre-work than usual, with the flags supplied needing to be unpackaged so as to make the day-of activities smoother, and reduce the likelihood of stray plastic being left at a gravesite.

Thousands of flags were placed across the county on Saturday. To the right in the cabin above, you can see how the flags were originally delivered. Jeff Sonnen and other volunteers/family members unwrapped the flags from the plastic and bundled them for easier distribution.

For the purposes of the flag placing ceremony, Lebanon County cemeteries are assigned different individuals and families who steward the process. The cemeteries span the geographic and denominational scope of Lebanon County, with Ebenezer, Cornwall, Quentin, Holy Cross, and Beth Israel just a few of the locations visited yesterday by VAC volunteers. Loy, for instance, annually coordinates the volunteers for placement at Ebenezer.

Mt. Lebanon Cemetery, originally the Union Cemetery, now takes up approximately 100 acres, having expanded greatly since its original charter in 1859. The cemetery has received the re-interred remains of several other historic Lebanon County cemeteries.

At Mt. Lebanon Cemetery (235 East Maple Street) about two dozen volunteers participated. Typically the Civil Air Patrol helps out, but with shutdown orders still in effect, this year’s gathering was conducted on a purely individual basis (although the group still had a strong showing in an unofficial capacity).

Individual volunteers were assigned certain sections of the Mt. Lebanon Cemetery to complete before moving on to a new one.

“Everything kinda fell together and we made it,” said Sonnen in a Saturday afternoon interview with LebTown.

Flags are distributed to volunteers Saturday morning at Mt. Lebanon Cemetery.

The whole effort took about two hours, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Saturday. That works out to a rate of more than 16 flags per minute, in case you were wondering, speed that makes it possible for the effort to be truly comprehensive and show visiting families over Memorial Day Weekend that their loved one’s service to their country has not been forgotten.

Volunteers are briefed in a socially-distant manner on the plan for Saturday’s placement ceremony.

Efficient though it may be, the experience as a whole remains focused on the core meaning of Memorial Day – reflecting on what it means to have made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation’s freedom.

Before each flag placement, a salute is made to the gravesite.

“We are so grateful to the volunteers who came out of the woodwork at the last minute to help us get this done,” said Sonnen.

An individual volunteer places a flag Saturday. Although the Civil Air Patrol was unable to participate in an official capacity, they still had a strong showing on a purely individual basis.

Flags will stay placed through Veterans Day in early November. At that point, the flags are collected and retired in a ceremony held at the Lickdale American Legion, where a fire pit was previously constructed for this purpose as an Eagle Scout project.

Some of the many flags placed throughout Mt. Lebanon Cemetery.

The Veterans’ Advisory Council is comprised of 13 veterans organizations from across the county:

  • American Legion, Post 158
  • Catholic War Veterans, Post 1193
  • Daughters of the American Revolution, Lebanon Chapter
  • Disabled American Veterans, Chapter 81
  • Keystone Paralyzed Veterans of America
  • Marine Corps League, Post 525
  • Military Order of the Cooties, Pup Tent 39
  • Navy Club, Ship 91
  • Project Welcome Home
  • Society of the 213th CAAA (Emeritus)
  • Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War,Seven Shays Camp
  • Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 23
  • Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 23 Honor Guard
  • Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 23 Auxiliary
  • Voiture 55-40 et 8

For more information on how you can support their efforts, check out the VAC’s Facebook group, or leave your information below and we’ll pass it along on your behalf.

Read more about Lebanon County veterans

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