Graves Restoration

Ever wonder how a flag holder happens to be set on a recently deceased veteran grave, or how the flags appear in those flag holders on Memorial Day? Do you need a broken, stolen, or lost flag holder replaced? Who does one call? That function is the responsibility of the Graves Restoration and Decoration Committee of the John P. Eaton American Legion Post. In 1922, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Post in Corning was experiencing declining membership, as all were veterans of the Civil War, and they were getting too old to decorate Civil War Veterans’ graves. In addition, Spanish-American vets and recent WW I veterans would be added to the rolls of veterans whose graves were to be decorated. The GAR approached the recently formed John P. Eaton Post and “passed the torch” of that honored duty, as well as the maintenance of the then, Decoration Day activities. The Post still proudly displays that printed GAR declaration in our new post home.

The first chairman of that new post committee was Leo McMahon, a WW I veteran. He oversaw the decoration of graves, and the inauguration of standard flag holders for flags, until after the end of WW II. From 1922 to 1947, Leo faithfully carried on that honor, as well as serving as post Commander, and various governance system positions. In 1947, Carlton Backer, a recent WW II veteran, accepted the passing of the torch. He served for 25 years as chairman, as well as Post Commander, Board of Directors member and President, and accepting the added duty earned by Korean War vets.

The next Past Commander, Board member, and Board President to serve as chair of this now-recognized position was Richard Hill, my father. He too, served in this honorable position for exactly 25 years (1962- 1987), before turning it over to Dorman Hooey, Sr. Dorman had also been a Past Commander. His health deteriorated, and he was forced to ‘pass’ the torch, again. In 1990, I took over the position, on advice of both my father (he wanted a sort of tradition to begin) and Bill Crane, Past Commander and long-time Adjutant.

Since I had helped my father for many years, I felt it would be an honor to fall in step with so many patriotic gentlemen. In the two years that I was deployed in both Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, Bill Crane stepped up to the plate and performed magnificently! Aw, he was always involved in the Memorial Day event, and knew the ropes as well as anyone. But Bill did add one more Legion ‘cap’ to wear…and he earned it! He never missed a beat!

So how is all this done? Well, the process has only been ‘tweaked’ a few times since 1922. It all starts at the Steuben County Veterans’ Service Officers’ group in Bath, NY. They receive notification from funeral directors, or the family, or even through the obituary columns of numerous Steuben County newspapers. They begin a ‘list’ of deceased veterans, and by early May of each year, they’ll order the appropriate flag holder style for each veteran. About ten days prior to Memorial Day, JP Eaton post is notified to pick up a list and the new flag holders, for placement in nine Corning-area cemeteries. My task is to go to each of the cemeteries, and locate each deceased veterans’ grave. I’ll then place the flag holder near the plot or stone monument. I do have the cemetery sextants’ phone numbers if I just can’t locate a plot myself.

The Sunday before Memorial Day is Flag Decoration time. Many volunteers are called for, and many respond. Some of these volunteers have been doing this for years, and have chosen a “favorite” cemetery to place flags. Volunteers come in all ages; from cub scouts to senior citizens. We are in no hurry, both to not miss a flag holder, and to observe the solemn duty we perform. We don’t miss many, but if we do, the calls come into the Post, and I’ll respond immediately. I make it a habit to call the family missed, apologize for the oversight, and generally give a reason why the veteran was missed. It’s usually because a flag holder was missing or stolen from the plot, or misplaced by the lawn crews. Those veterans without a flag holder create a whole new situation.

If a family member does not receive a flag holder, then a break in the procedure has happened. The reasons are many, but the solution is simple. Call the post at 654-7735, giving the veterans name, date of death, and a number to reach you. The Club Manager will forward that info to the Service Officer, which is also me, and I will remedy the situation for you. You will need to have a copy of the veterans DD214 or Discharge certificate. I’ll hand-carry that info to Bath, and arrange to provide a new flag holder, and place it for you.

If you are missing a flag holder, use the same call routine. The post has authorized the Service Officer and Flag Chair to purchase additional flag holders each year. Their generosity and patriotism will allow for a planned program to replace missing and damaged holders in all of our cemeteries within the next few years.

In summary, as the Boy Scouts say, “Be prepared.” Veterans, have copies of your DD214 available for your family. Relatives, be sure to notify funeral directors of your loved one’s wishes concerning both flag holders and veteran plaques. Lastly, please take advantage of your service officer should you feel you may need assistance. I’ll be waiting on your call.


Brian J. Hill

Graves Restoration Chair

Service Officer