Wilson students, Sinking Spring VFW remember veterans for Memorial Day

Events like this from Memorial Day 2018 in Pleasant View Cemetery in Spring Township will be repeated this year. In a reversal, the Wolf administration granted a local company a waiver to distribute flags to Berks County to mark the solemn holiday.

Flags will fill cemeteries across Berks County on Memorial Day after all.

The county announced Monday that Gov. Tom Wolf has granted a waiver to FlagZone near Gilbertsville that will allow the company to distribute American flags for the national day of remembrance. The decision also means that the Berks County Department of Veterans Affairs will now be able to carry out the annual tradition of mobilizing an army of volunteers to dress up graves of veterans.

The announcement is a reversal for the administration, which initially denied the request by FlagZone to sell flags request earlier this month. Casey Smith, communications director at the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development, had said in a statement that the company would have to unfortunately suspend its operations as part of a mandate by the governor aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

That decision was met with criticism from company officials, local residents and county leaders.

Ken Lebron, county Veterans Affairs administrator, said the swift response made a difference.

"The waiver is a result of the overwhelming groundswell of voices from concerned, patriotic citizens of this county who were extremely upset regarding the impending absence of American flags to decorate the graves of veterans for Memorial Day," Lebron said in a press release. "The commissioners heard those concerns and responded expeditiously by relaying those concerns directly to the leadership in Harrisburg."

County commissioners Chairman Christian Y. Leinbach commended Lebron and purchasing director Kelly Laubach for their determination to make sure the county would be able to continue the annual tradition. By state law, counties are required to provide flags to decorate the graves of all deceased service members on each Memorial Day.

Lebron said these unified efforts paid off last week when FlagZone was granted the waiver.

Daniel Ziegler, FlagZone president, said the company is appreciative of the support it received.

"We're moving in right direction, and we're hopeful that we'll be able to start manufacturing as well," he said. "But to be able to get these flags distributed and placed at the graves of our veterans is extremely important to us."

Ziegler said the company will be distributing more than 400,000 flags over the next several days to several counties that had placed orders. In addition to Berks, those counties include Bucks, Chester and Delaware.

"We're just excited to get these flags out after months of being shutdown," he said. "Memorial Day has such a rich history. Hopefully, when a family goes to the gravesite of a loved one who was a veteran they will now see that they were not forgotten. It should give them some peace to know that."

With the help of its partners and volunteers, more than 50,000 flags will now be placed at 233 cemeteries across Berks.

Volunteers from the Blue Knights Motorcycle Club will use a truck donated by Penske Truck Rental to pick up the flags and deliver them to the county Veterans Affairs office Tuesday morning. The flags will then be distributed Wednesday through Friday to groups representing cemeteries throughout the county.

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