Flags of honor

Published 3:00 pm Friday, May 25, 2018

Memorial Day — a day to honor all of those men and women who had fallen while in the line of duty while serving the country in the armed forces. Memorial Day’s origin stems from the days after the Civil War and was called Decoration at first. It became an official federal holiday in 1971.

The morning of May 25 is sunny with light clouds coasting through the sky on an intermittent breeze. Rain is nowhere to be found at the moment, as the light is able to take hold and the humidity hovers in the air. The light casts a golden-yellow hue on the hills of the Hurst Cemetery in Middlesboro. It is considered a good morning by Gary Mayes of the Middlesboro Vets Serving Vets.

Mayes, along with other Vets Serving Vets members and volunteers from the the community, have been planting small American flags by the graves of veterans for what Mayes estimates at 50 years or so.

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Mayes and the Vets Serving Vets don’t just focus on one cemetery, however. They cover multiple cemeteries in the Bell County Area.

“Today we’re going to put out about 550 to 750 flags,” said Mayes.

The flags used by the organization aren’t just for planting in cemetery’s either, they are used all around the city for various purpose. They are flown at businesses and city offices. Mayes is in charge of all the flag operations for Vets Serving Vets.

“We’re out here on these hillsides — dedicated people do dedicated things,” said Mayes.

Mayes also disposes of damaged flags. Damaged flags will be collected, and a purging ceremony will take place where they are burned with a purity flame. The flags are inspected, saluted and then burned. They are even buried. They have in the past demonstrated this procedure at Middlesboro High School, said Mayes.

The only part of the flag not burned is the brass fitting.

“I try to give back to the community because I made my life in this community. After you get up in years, sometimes you want to show your respect by doing certain things that maybe the people you grew up and touched hands with were doing and are no longer with us, so somebody has to do those things,” said Mayes.

The flags can be observed at the Hurst Cemetery in Middlesboro.