Despite group ban at VA cemeteries, Sachem residents place American flags at Calverton for Memorial Day

LAKE RONKONKOMA, NY ( / — Residents from Lake Ronkonkoma and other parts of the Sachem area would not let the graves of U.S. military members go without American flags this Memorial Day. 

They headed out to Calverton National Cemetery in Wading River on Friday to ensure hundreds of the men and women buried there would continue to have their gravesites adorned with American flags.

“We decided to place flags because it was the right thing to do. Our servicemen and women served us. We could do this for them,” said Matthew Balkam of Lake Ronkonkoma. 

Balkam and others secured over 800 flags to place at Calverton just before the long Memorial Day weekend began. With social distancing followed, the residents placed all of their flags one-by-one at the graves of veteran men and women.

“We understand the decision by the VA to not allow organized groups place flags, but we felt the men and women deserved a flag this weekend and we were pleased that we were allowed to do this as a private citizen,” Balkam added.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs announced it will not allow gatherings for flag placements at national cemeteries citing social distancing during the pandemic.

"Other public events typically associated with Memorial Day at national cemeteries, including group placement of flags at gravesites, will not take place," the VA wrote in an announcement. "However, all VA national cemeteries will be open Memorial Day weekend from dawn to dusk for public visitation."

While the traditional group flag placements that have taken place every Memorial Day weekend since 1995 at Calverton National Cemetery in Wading River and Long Island National Cemetery in East Farmingdale are currently suspended due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, individuals took it upon themselves to visit the cemeteries and place flags.

"I was happy to play a small part in paying tribute to America’s heroes,” said Suffolk County Legislator Anthony Piccirillo (R-Holbrook). Piccirillo was among those placing flags. “It is important that we never forget the sacrifices these brave men and women have made for our country; even during these unprecedented times,” Piccirillo said.

Meanwhile, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone led a flag-placing effort for non-veteran cemeteries today. Volunteers went in small groups to place American flags at the graves of veterans in the following 15 cemeteries:

  • Washington Memorial Park Cemetery, Mt Sinai
  • Union Cemetery, Middle Island
  • St. John's the Evangelist Cemetery, Riverhead
  • Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary, Southampton
  • Mt Pleasant Cemetery and Crematory, Center Moriches
  • Huntington Rural Cemetery, Huntington
  • Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Coram
  • Queen of All Saints Cemetery, Central Islip
  • First Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Southold
  • Shaarey Pardes Accabonac Grove Cemetery, East Hampton
  • St. Ann's Episcopal Church Cemetery, Sayville
  • North Babylon Cemetery, Babylon
  • Babylon Rural Cemetery, Babylon
  • St. Patrick's Cemetery, Smithtown
  • Our Lady of the Isle Cemetery, Dering Harbor

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