When the Long Island National Cemetery in Famingdale, N.Y., reached its capacity in 1981, nearby Calverton National Cemetery became the new location for veteran burials in the area.
By the late 1980s, Legionnaires Frank Belsito and Cornelius Ferrick of Pearl Harbor Memorial Post 1941 in Port Jefferson, N.Y., realized there was a disparity in respect being given to deceased veterans. On Memorial Day, flags were being placed on graves at Long Island National but not at Calverton National. Families with loved ones buried in both cemeteries were disappointed at this lack of equal respect.
Belsito and Ferrick learned funds were not available to provide additional flags, so the two formed a committee and made trips to VA’s headquarters in Washington to solicit support. It was a long road with many obstacles.
Nearly eight years later they were able to reach a compromise. Post 1941 would raise the initial $30,000 to purchase the flags needed, guarantee volunteers to place them and then pick them up a week after Memorial Day. The VA would then purchase the flags in the future.
Post 1941 raised the $30,000, and 1,500 Boy Scouts were recruited to place and remove the flags. Within 45 minutes, 105,000 flags were placed and the tradition began. More than 15 years later, the placing of flags at gravesites on Memorial Day is still going strong. Approximately 100,000 additional graves have been located there, and volunteer numbers have surged to 6,000. A patriotic ceremony is held after the placing, rain or shine because “our U.S. military fought and died in all kinds of weather,” Belsito said.
“American Legion posts throughout the world should be the watchdog over the national cemeteries in their area. They need to be certain the grass is cut, the monuments clean and straight and that every veteran gets the military honor at the cemetery that he or she deserves, “ he added.
Undoubtedly, Post 1941 is a leader in this area and example to others; it lives its motto: “Every day is Memorial Day in National Cemeteries”.