Sunday, May 27, 2012

Holding the flag(s) high

U.S. flags were flying Saturday evening in the Chariton Cemetery at the graves of my great-uncle, Jeremiah Miller, in a World War I holder, and immediately to the north, in a similar Korean War holder, at the grave of his son, Warren.

Memorial Day at any Iowa cemetery is loaded with symbolism, bright flags held erect at veteran gravesites in holders unique to the war or the era in which he or she served. In the Chariton Cemetery and several others nearby, the mix is enriched by distinctive Chariton Volunteer Fire Department flags in considerably more elaborate holders bearing distinctive red flags with Old Betsy emblazoned upon them. Every deceased veteran of the fire department back to the beginning is honored each year in that way in Chariton, at Oxford, Waynick and elsewhere.

Lt. George W. Alexander's gravesite is a perfect storm of symbolism. Alexander, attorney and popular Chariton mayor, died during 1916. The tombstone with pointed top and Southern Cross of Honor identify him as a Confederate veteran (Co. 3, 31st Tennessee Infantry), but the flag holder is Grand Army of the Republic (Union) and the flag, U.S. The Chariton Volunteer Fire Department holder and flag tell us that he was a veteran of that organization, too. Alexander is buried on the lot of his friend and colleague, Napoleon B. Branner, also a Confederate veteran. You'll find more about Alexander here.

Here's a closeup of the distinctive CVFD holder on the grave of a cousin, Wilberforce Coles, also a Civil War veteran. In some cases, graves otherwise unmarked are identified by their fire department holders, each of which names the honoree. A contemporary adaption of this holder still is used by firefighters.

And there once were more flags, all in distinctive holders, used by members of various fraternal and patriotic orders to memorialize once yearly their former members. Only the Fraternal Order of Eagles maintains that tradition now, but the holders of long-vanished organizations continue to dot the cemetery.

This is not a comprehensive collection of flag holders. I stopped at the cemetery Saturday evening after the trip out to Salem, but ran out of light before I ran out of holders.

Of all the lodges that once flourished in Chariton, only the Fraternal Order of Eagles continues the tradition of marking members' graves with distinctive flags for Memorial Day.

The prettiest flag holders in the cemetery are located at the graves of Rebekahs, members of the I.O.O.F. auxiliary organization. The faded pink rose was attached several years ago by a lovely lady from rural Humeston, whose task it was to track down and so decorate the graves of all Rebekahs in Lucas and Wayne counties. Sadly, she now has died --- and there will be no more roses once this one is gone.

There are at least three varieties of flag holders for I.O.O.F. members themselves, but this is the most elaborate. There seems to be no one left, however, to fill the holders.

The redoubtable Daughters of the American Revolution once was a force to be reckoned with in Chariton --- but no more. Their flag holders remain empty. This is one of two located on adjoining graves of Dungan sisters.

The Womens Relief Corps, an auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic, was created in 1883 specifically to to perpetuate the memory of the G.A.R.

This is Samuel Walthall's War of 1812 flag holder, but the hole intended to support a flag is far too small to support a contemporary flag. Samuel, who died during 1858, was buried first in the Douglass Cemetery, but moved into Chariton with his wife and a daughter during 1919, when this holder was acquired. You can read more about Walthall here.For some reason, the operable flag holder located on Walthall's grave is for a Spanish-American War veteran. I suspect it was moved by mistake from the nearby grave of an actual veteran of that war, but need to check this out.

I'm sure there are other flag holders at the cemetery, so keep your eyes open if you're wandering around out there this weekend.

Whoops. I forgot the Knights of Pythias. We used to have lots of knights --- and their ladies, the Pythian Sisters. Now, there are no more.

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