Neenah woman upset with how flags were handled at Appleton cemetery

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APPLETON, Wis. (WBAY) – A Neenah woman is upset after she believes a local cemetery disrespected veterans. The woman’s complaints come after she found a number of American flags and veteran grave markers tossed out with the trash.

Signs at Highland Memorial Park in Appleton clearly state the cemetery’s fall clean up runs from October 15th to the 25th. Flowers, vases and other mementos must be removed from gravesites during that time period. Paula Wichman knows the rules, but was unable to get to her parent’s gravesite in time.

According to Wichman, when she finally made it to the cemetery last week, “my heart dropped when this (a bronze veteran marker) was gone, the flag was gone.”

But what was most upsetting is where Wichman found her father’s bronze veteran grave marker and about a dozen American flags. The items were in a garbage can.

Wichman says, “Not even being a veteran, my dad deserves better than this. The veterans deserve better than to have the flag or their markers in the garbage can.”

In Appleton visiting American Legion Post 38, the National Commander of the American Legion says what happened to these flags was improper, citing codes and organizations that will dispose of flags the right way.

“The flag is American. The flag represents all of us and it’s not worthy of going into, being discarded in that manner as the picture displays,” says Charles Schmidt.

In a statement to Action 2 News, Dignity Memorial, which owns Highland Memorial Park says:

We certainly empathize with grieving families who wish to add personal items to the graves of their loved ones. We have an obligation to all the families we serve and their loved ones who are interred at our cemetery to maintain a consistent standard of appearance, as well as safety in or around gravesites.

We honor service men and women by placing flags in our cemetery every Memorial Day. Shortly after the holiday, the flags are removed and placed into storage until the next holiday. Flags placed by family members outside of these times are left alone until the next maintenance date, unless the flag became tattered and needed to be retired.

We post signs regularly to make all of our visitors aware of the removals so families have ample time to remove any items they wish to keep. It was never our intention to upset or offend any client family. We will continue this practice of providing notice in advance of periodic removals to provide all families we serve with a peaceful, beautiful and safe environment in which to remember their loved ones.”

In response to a follow-up email to Dignity Memorial asking if the company will continue to throw flags and markers in the garbage when they’re removed from the gravesites prior to the clean up, Dignity Memorial sent another statement saying:

It is our policy to follow proper protocol for the retirement of flags. As for the bronze veteran markers; after given notice to the family of the cemetery clean-up and the family does not claim the bronze marker, they are returned to the County Veterans Office.”

It’s little consolation to Paula Wichman, who says her fight isn’t over. “You disrespected my dad. If I could take them and put them somewhere else, I would.”