Monday, April 29, 2013

Va Flaggers Update: A Flag for Oakwood

At Oakwood Cemetery in Richmond, 17,000+ Confederate dead rest in the Confederate section of the City owned cemetery.  Thanks to an agreement between the Va Div Sons of Confederate Veterans and the City of Richmond, it is now the best kept and by far most beautiful section in the cemetery.  Past C-I-C McMichael, and Past Virginia Division Commander John Sawyer all signed the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the City of Richmond.  This agreement does not transfer the deed or title to Oakwood Cemetery - Confederate Section to the SCV, but it gives the Virginia Division the sole authority to place upright markers for each Confederate Veteran buried there and improvements or markers of any kind. The Virginia Division also has the exclusive responsibility of maintaining the 10 acres of grounds in the Confederate section of Oakwood Cemetery. The Oakwood Committee and Va Div SCV are in the midst of an ongoing effort to properly mark the graves there, which includes pending legal action.  Details can be found here...
I live just a few miles from the cemetery and pass it each day on my way to and from work.  I often stop to freshen stick flags, or photograph grave markers at the request of descendants and often wondered about the empty flag pole in the Confederate section.  In October of last year, I started asking around for help in getting a flag raised.  We felt strongly that the men buried there deserved the honor of a flag flying over their final resting place.  On my first attempt, I found the rope and snap hook broken, so recruited one of the Flaggers to help make repairs.
On November 12th, Veterans' Day, we brought the necessary items to repair and rig the broken rope and raised a Third National over the graves.  At this point, we had no idea how long the flag would remain, but were thrilled at the thought that at least for Veterans' Day, the soldiers were honored and left with great satisfaction.
Over the next few days, we would drive through the cemetery often at lunch time, and were pleasantly surprised that the flag was untouched, and grateful for every day it flew in honor and memory of the Confederate dead buried there.
When we got word from a friend who lives nearby that the flag was missing a week later, we immediately went back out and raised another one its place, this time a Battle Flag, as it was what I had available and since it was the flag the soldiers would most recognize.  At this point, we did not know who had taken down the flag, but we were determined to continue to replace it, as often as necessary.
Over the next few weeks, the flag was removed several more times, and each time, we replaced it with another, at one point raising  a flag with this message written so that whoever was removing the flag would understand our intentions...  "100 more will rise to take its place... DEO VINDICE!"
When that flag came down, TriPp visited the cemetery office to speak with the personnel there about the flag thefts.  The employees were very cordial and admitted that they had been removing the flags because they had instructions to do so.  When TriPp asked to see the instructions in writing, he was referred to a public relations official in the city.  A half dozen calls to that official were never returned.  The video of that visit is part of the documentary at the end of this report and is a must see.  Please take a minute to view it.
After that meeting, TriPp put his son, Jack on his shoulders and they raised the tie off of the rope so that a ladder would be needed to remove the flag. From that time, the flag flew, UNTOUCHED until a February 3rd visit found that the rope had broken away at the top of the pole and needed to be fixed.  On February 13th, a volunteer with a bucket truck came out and we were able to fix the rope and once again tie off the rope to prevent theft.
A week later, we were THRILLED to receive the news that the Oakwood Committee had replaced the old flag pole with a brand new one, with an internal lanyard system, LOCKED to prevent anyone else from removing the flag.  The Va Flaggers offered our sincere thanks and appreciation to Lee Hart and the committee for this beautiful upgrade!  Now a Confederate flag will fly 24/7 to honor our Confederate dead, without fear of theft or vandalism!  It is truly a beautiful sight to behold!
On Sunday, April 21st, "Va Flaggers at Oakwood Cemetery", a short film/documentary by VCU film student Rob. P Walker was shown at the Byrd Theatre in Richmond.  Not sure what to expect from the mostly college aged audience, we were thrilled, when, at the conclusion of the film, the crowded theatre erupted in applause and shouts of approval.
PLEASE take a minute to view the documentary and share it far and wide. 
FOLLOW UP NOTE:  Last week, TriPp went by the Cemetery Office to offer thanks on behalf of the Va Flaggers and show our appreciation for their cooperation.  The female employee with whom TriPp communicates in the video was once again very cordial, and relayed the following story:  She told TriPp that recently she had locked up and was about to leave when she decided to take a drive around the cemetery before she left.  On her way back out, she noticed a man at the office door.  Even though it was past closing time, she made the decision to stop and check on him.  The man told her he was looking for a Confederate ancestor.  She went inside and they were able to locate the plot and she volunteered to drive him over to the Confederate section.  She said when the man found the grave he was very moved and grateful and thanked her profusely.  He then mentioned the flag flying on the pole and told her how much it meant to him that the cemetery honored his ancestor by flying that flag.  She told TriPp that for the first time, she really understood what he had been trying to convey and appreciated what the flag meant to us. 
We don't know what the future holds, but as of April 22nd, 2013, and due to Va Flagger persistence and refusal to accept "leaving well enough alone",  a flag has flown over the graves of 17,000+ soldiers for over 5 months and 10 days... and, we believe, hearts and minds have been changed in the journey.
The Virginia Flaggers would like to offer our sincere thanks to the employees of Oakwood Cemetery, Lee Hart and the Oakwood Memorial Committee members, and VCU Film Student Rob Walker for his exceptional work in documenting the Va Flaggers over the last several months.
The Oakwood Documentary is just the first of many Va Flagger documentaries planned   Stay tuned for much, much more!
View the Oakwood Documentary/Short Film Here:
Susan Hathaway
Va Flaggers