Flags of honor: The story behind the Avenue of Flags at Cape County Park North

Thursday, November 11, 2010
File -- Each year a display of flags is placed along a road at Cape County Park North in honor of veterans. (Fred Lynch)

This story appeared in the 2010 edition of the Southeast Missourian's annual Veterans Day publication.

When Bruce Watkins signed on as park superintendent at Cape County Park North 22 years ago, he oversaw a display of about 125 flags every Veterans Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day. Today, that number has climbed to about 680 flags lining the park road on patriotic days, now including Sept. 11.

"Each flag represents a deceased veteran who served in a war era or in combat," says Bill Humphries, a Vietnam veteran and member of Cape Girardeau VFW Post 3838. Several POWs and a Medal of Honor winner are represented in the Avenue of Flags, as well. The names of all the veterans represented are listed in a permanent, sheltered display near the big flag at Cape County Park North.

"It's a show of support for the veterans. Particularly in this day and time, any support we can give these young men and women is a nice gesture," says Watkins. "Every year we gain some for veterans who served from Cape County."

According to Humphries, the Avenue of Flags tradition was started by World War II veterans over 20 years ago. Humphries has been a VFW member for about 20 years, and has been in charge of the flags project for about 10 years.

Watkins and Humphries rise before dawn on patriotic holidays to meet local VFW members, Boy Scout Troop 5, the Junior Optimist Club, VFW Men's Auxiliary and other volunteers at the park. Flashlights in hand, the volunteers carefully unload the flags, unfurl them and inspect them for damage before placing them throughout the park. It takes about an hour and a half to place the flags, says Watkins, and they're removed the federal flag code. Flags are not placed if there is at least a 40 percent chance of rain, says Humphries. It takes one volunteer to place the flag, he adds, but three are needed to take down and fold the flags.

For information about placing a flag in memory of a veteran, or to volunteer with flag placement, call Cape Girardeau VFW Post 3838 at (573) 334-3838.

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