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Effort launched to preserve flag tradition at veterans cemetery

Updated May 14, 2020 - 2:43 pm

For 29 years, volunteers have placed thousands of flags on the grave sites of fallen military service members at a cemetery in Boulder City. Local officials are rallying to ensure there is a 30th.

The coronavirus pandemic forced organizers to call off the Memorial Day weekend tradition this year at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery, citing concerns that volunteers could not observe social distancing. But the flag-placing cancellation prompted elected leaders and veterans groups to step forward with a plan to continue the tradition.

Las Vegas City Councilwoman Victoria Seaman announced Thursday the launch of Project Memorial, a privately funded effort to ensure the tradition safely carries on May 23, albeit scaled back from prior years.

Byron Brooks, the councilwoman’s veterans outreach coordinator, said the veterans organizations that typically spearhead the effort “could not commit to providing support this year as those veterans are our older generation veterans who are at the highest risk and most susceptible for COVID-19.”

So instead the Nevada Veterans Association, and others, will take the reins while following public health safety guidelines, according to Brooks.

“This year will be a smaller-scale event than all previous years, and we ask that those in attendance will assess their own levels of health risks and concerns,” he said.

The effort drew bipartisan support from Republican state Sen. Scott Hammond, Republican Assemblywoman Melissa Hardy and the office of Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford during a news conference outside City Hall.

“This is a tradition that I’ve participated in since I was a little girl, and it’s something that I hold very near and dear to my heart,” Hardy said.

Samantha Bivins, a district representative for Horsford, noted how she was a widow of a U.S. Marine veteran with a son in the Army and a daughter about to join.

“So this event I think is deeply important,” she said.

In past years, volunteers have placed more than 26,000 flags on grave sites at the cemetery.

Seaman underscored how acquiring flags was one challenge facing the Nevada Veterans Association as she urged people to donate funding if possible, pointing them to her website, VictoriaSeaman.com, and vowing all donations would be spent on flags and other supplies for the event.

Nevada Veterans Association President Donna Lee, a Navy veteran, said the flag-placement tradition would not be possible without the support of the community.

“I emphasize that this veteran community is rooted in tradition and ceremony,” she said, adding that “this organization is blind to political persuasion.”

Brooks said volunteers would be assembling at the Boulder City cemetery at 6:30 a.m. May 23 and will begin placing flags at no later than 7 a.m. He added that additional details about the event would be coming from the Nevada Veterans Association.

Meanwhile, the cemetery will be open on Memorial Day and families who enter must observe social distancing guidelines, according to the cemetery. The public also is encouraged to wear face masks.

For more information, contact Seaman’s Ward 2 office at 702-229-2420.

Contact Shea Johnson at sjohnson@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0272. Follow @Shea_LVRJ on Twitter.

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