FALL RIVER, Mass. (MyFoxBoston.com) – Proper etiquette tossed by the wayside when a couple dozen flags, which were once markers at the graves of several local veterans, were dropped in the mud and into a garbage pile.
It is disrespectful to let a flag even touch the ground, and yet the City of Fall River admits the flags were dumped in a heap in the dirt by a city worker.
Fall River issued an apology Tuesday, but for the veteran, who witnessed the disrespectful act, the apology is not enough.
"Kick you in the head, kick you in the gut, and maybe a stomp or two," is how Patrick, a Marine, felt when he took a picture of the disturbing scene at the city's DPW complex.
Patrick, a handyman, happened to be at the complex that day and saw the American flags carelessly discarded on the ground.
"All the sudden, a green five ton city cemetery truck just dumped a big load of flags and wreaths right on the ground. I was sick," Patrick recalled.
Patrick put the pictures along with a note about the disgrace on Facebook and says it went viral.
FOX 25 brought the pictures to the attention of Fall River's Veteran Services Director Ray Hauge, who is also a veteran.
"I just can't wrap my head around how a cemetery worker could think it is okay to leave the flags like that, in a basically, in a transfer station, in a dump…We agree, we agree, and I appreciate the Marine who saw this, brought it to the forefront, and is giving us the opportunity to correct the wrong that was done," Hauge stated.
While it doesn't make it right, it was an isolated incident, an employee error, Hauge said.
A spokeswoman for the mayor said that the worker was just trying to clean up the Oak Grove Cemetery. He pulled out the worn and ripped flags along with wilted flowers and dried wreaths with the intention of sorting through them and bringing the flags back to the cemetery to be disposed of properly. Still, the city acknowledges the offense.
The worker was issued a verbal warning.
Patrick wants city officials to apologize to every American veteran and not just him.
Hauge says when the mayor returns from Washington, D.C., he will also react to the incident.
Hauge also plans to meet with cemetery employees to give them a refresher course in flag etiquette and how to properly dispose of the flag, which in Fall River involves a war council burning the flags in a ceremony and then burying the ashes.
Fall River Director of Cemeteries Thomas Eaton talked to FOX 25's Catherine Parrotta Wednesday morning and said he feels sick about the flags ending up in a pile at the DPW complex. Eaton said he asked the workers to clear holiday decorations from the cemetery, but when he looked out the window, he saw flags in the back of the trucks.
Eaton said he told the workers to take the flags out, then sent them to the DPW to go through the trash and recover the flags they had dumped there.
Eaton also said he has left printed instructions regarding flag etiquette in the cemetery office and has met with workers to talk to them about the proper disposal of flags.