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3,500 flags will fly in Spokane cemeteries in honor of those who served

Each of the 2,240 flags raised in Fairmount Memorial Park is meticulously plotted in the same location each year so families can pay tribute to the veterans they’ve lost.

The flags were displayed with the caskets at the veterans’ funerals. Since 1970, families have donated them for display in one of four cemeteries in Spokane. Between Greenwood Memorial Terrace, Riverside Memorial Park, Spokane Memorial Gardens and Fairmount, about 3,500 flags will fly this year for Memorial Day on Monday. Each flag bears the name of the veteran and a number to track it.

“The flags are placed in the same place every year so when families who donated a flag come they know where they are,” said Tom Bower, who oversees the process. “People often bring flowers or buy plaques to place in the spot.”

The number of flags displayed grows annually. Fairmount added about a dozen this year.

“We didn’t mean to get so carried away, but people wouldn’t let us stop,” said Duane Broyles, president of Fairmount Memorial Association, which accepts donations to maintain the flags. It replaces about 100 worn flags a year at a cost of $5,000.

Raising the flags is a painstaking process that typically takes four days. Monday the poles were laid throughout the cemetery, and Tuesday through Thursday Bower and a crew raise each flag in numerical order. The holes are roughly six paces apart lining the cemetery, and some have a number marker to ensure the crew is on track.

And the flags must never touch the ground, said Fairmount grounds supervisor Orville Clouse.

Clouse’s favorite part of the weekend is to help people find their flag.

Thousands will visit Fairmount and the other cemeteries during the holiday weekend, Broyles said.

“Some people come as early as Thursday and Friday because it’s easier to get around without the crowd. We have a steady stream for Saturday, Sunday and Monday,” he said.

The flag donations started because Bessie Brown, one of the first Missouri women to join the Women of the Army Air Corps, lost her husband in the Solomon Islands in 1942. Her second husband, George Brown, also a veteran, asked Fairmount to fly the flag at the cemetery’s Iwo Jima Memorial in honor of the first husband. George and Bessie Brown are buried at Fairmount.

Bower, whose brother just returned from Iraq, said he sometimes goes out to watch the families find their flags.

On Tuesday, he and his crew will begin taking down each flag and packing it away for next year.

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