Happy ALOHA Friday Folks!
I hope your Thanksgiving was filled with love, laughter and relaxation.
I wanted to share an idea with you all of what our intentions here at the Hawai’i State Veterans Cemetery in Kaneohe is with regards to one of our biggest issues when it comes to our gravesites, particularly the standards of care and maintaining them.
I have only been here in my position for almost 10 months now and have learned a lot of what the expectations of the proper care and management of our cemetery is when it comes to the standards beset by the National Cemetery Administration and the Veterans Administration. Focusing in on the gravesites themselves, there is an expectation that each and every gravesite should exude a high standard of honor, dignity, respect and reverence. I have come to understand that the standard also incorporates a sense that every gravesite possesses in appearance and physical care that each one is treated exactly the same and that no gravesite should “stand above” another. The standards to achieve the level of reverence and uniformity evenly across all the gravesites is that there should only be:
· 1 Standard Marker that is provided by the VA
o This marker’s finish should not be polished or painted and there should be nothing permanently attached to it which would detract from the common standard
· The perpetual care of the grass/sod by the cemetery grounds staff. There should be no trenching, installing of borders, fencing etc. which would detract from the common standard policy
· Permanent vases, purchased by the NOK, ohana or friends of which currently only 1 is allowed to be installed by the grounds staff. Those with more than one vase has been grandfathered into the policy of one vase when it was implemented.
As much as we have challenges with keeping to the aforementioned standards governing each gravesite, there is an inherent issue of flags on gravesites. Here at the HSVC, we have multiple U.S. flags on some of the gravesites, we have Service Department flags (US Army, USAF, US Marine Corps, US Coast Guard, US Navy), NFL Flags, Sovereignty Flags, you name it….we have them. I have been told by the NMCP leadership that all veteran cemetery’s have the U.S. and State flags flying on the main cemetery flagpoles in honor of each of the veterans and families laid to rest within the Veterans Cemetery’s. An additional component of how each gravesite should look almost exactly the same when adhering to the standards and why there should not be any flags on any of the gravesites with the exception of Memorial Day, where a U.S. Flag is planted on every gravesite for that day only. There really should be no flags to be put on gravesites at all.
The Flags that are planted at the gravesites by NOK’s, families and friends are done so without the understanding of what the treatment/care protocols are for these flags……referencing the flag of the United States and State of the Union flags, which are:
· Must always be straight and upright
· If left overnight, must have a light to illuminate the flag during the dark of night hours (hence the primary reason why we have our National and State flags flying on our main flagpoles)
· Must not have any marking or writing on them
· Must not be faded, tattered, torn, stained or dirty
· Must never touch the ground
· Must always be arranged in the proper protocol order of precedence (which most of the folks have no idea of what the precedence is)
These flags are left within the cemetery grounds after the individual departs the cemetery with the burden of the care and treatment of that flag left with the cemetery and it’s staff. A burden that is purely bestowed upon the veterans cemetery because the veterans cemetery inherits the kuleana of taking care of that flag and must ensure it meets all the standards of protocol. This is something that the NOK, ohana and friends fail to understand….because if a U.S./State flag is torn, dirty, stained, touching or laying on the ground……they will not be the ones available to correct the situation….it’s the cemetery staff that must.
It is my belief that the culture of our community must be shaped to understand that there should not be any type of flag on any of the gravesites. To get there is going to take a monumental effort because our communities have been doing this (have been allowed to) for many, many years…….but because it has been a current and past practice does not mean it is right.
When I broached this topic with our Director, Ron Han, I proposed it as a plan/goal for the HSVC. Director Han shared with me that this endeavor needs to be a statewide effort for consistency sake which I completely agree with.
Please know that all of this is purely just a discussion and open for everyone’s thoughts and opinion’s. Everyone’s collective feedback is important to implementing change (especially drastic change) if we all feel it is warranted.
My initial thought is to present a plan that would target Memorial Day 2022 as the last day any of the cemetery’s would allow any flags within our cemetery’s. To lead up to the that date as a target of implementation, we would need to do media blitzes, community notifications, neighborhood board announcements, TV and Radio spots, visual banners/signage announcing the intended change…….all months in advance to the implementation date so this information can be massaged into our communities. Again, this idea is only in the stage of a internal discussion with you all.
I expect this entire process to be a painful one as our communities will not be happy at all as they probably feel that it is their right to do what they want….but looking at what is the right thing to do should be the premise of how this comes to fruition. To add…..if this endeavor is accepted and executed, it needs to be accomplished with hearts of aloha and respect.
Please let me know your thoughts on this topic. Also, please let me know if I should have included anyone else that I had inadvertently left out as this would affect all the State of Hawai’i cemetery’s on each island.
Have an awesome rest of your day and even better upcoming weekend!
E Mālama Pono,
Rob Lee, CCM, USAF/ANG (ret)
State of Hawai’i DOD/OVS-HSVC
45-349 Kamehameha Hwy, Kaneohe, HI 96744