More than 500 flags to fly in display's 25th year

Sunday, May 27, 2012
The Avenue of Flags has been put up at Cape County Park since 1987. The first Memorial Day display had 125 flags; this year's display will have more than 500. A photo gallery from the 1987 dedication of the display is at semissourian.com. (Fred Lynch)

Over 25 years, more of the red, white and blue has been seen popping up along the roads winding through Cape County Park North. Representing both American pride and memories of loved ones who served but are gone, the flags reappeared each year, first in late May, in mid-June, on July 4 and again in early September. Patrons of the Avenue of Flags could always count on November as the last time the display could be seen for the year, although sometimes it returned in December.

Calvin Vogelsang, a member of the VFW Post 3838 in Cape Girardeau, organized the first Avenue of Flags display at the park on Memorial Day in 1987. Around 125 flags flew that day, bearing a card with the name of one of Cape Girardeau County's deceased veterans.

More than 500 will rise in the park this Memorial Day, said Bill Humphries, another member of Post 3838 who has helped organize the display since 1991.

Those who have never stopped in the park to ask about the history of the display might not know that most of the flags are directly connected to the veterans they now represent -- most were draped over their caskets and presented to their families during their memorial service or funeral. Families contact Humphries with requests to add their veteran's flag to the display throughout the year, he said. He charges $25 for the display pole and makes and attaches a card with the veteran's information.

The community enjoys the display, Humphries said, and it gives families a way to continue honoring their veteran.

The Avenue of Flags at Cape Girardeau County Park North. (Fred Lynch)

"A lot of people, they have this flag and they really don't know what to do with it," he said. "Others like to see their dad's flag fly, or their grandpa's flag fly. It means something to them."

Talk of expanding the Avenue of Flags began almost immediately following the display's dedication in 1987 because of public interest, according to a Southeast Missourian story from May 27 of that year. Vogelsang, who died in July 2007, told the newspaper that the display's unveiling resulted in possibly the biggest crowd ever for Memorial Day services at the park.

Problems installing and taking down the display have existed since its beginning. There have been times when not all the flags were erected, either because organizers didn't have enough volunteers to help or flags had deteriorated and couldn't be flown in bad condition, Humphries said.

He said he wasn't sure of the exact number the display contains, but that there are two trailers full of the flags, which are stored by the county's parks department when not in use. The display is likely down around 100 flags from previous years because flags damaged from age or weather can't be used.

It takes 12 to 15 volunteers about two hours to install the flags. Triple that number of volunteers are needed to take down the flags, Humphries said, because they have to be folded in a certain way. Installation is done early in the morning on the day of the holiday of which the flags are flown and they are taken down on the evening of the same day. Volunteers install the flags on all patriotic holidays, including Flag Day, Independence Day, Patriot Day and Veterans Day. National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day has been included in the display schedule at times, although Humphries said it isn't most years anymore because not enough volunteers can be found to work in the cold and it is difficult to place the poles in the hard winter ground.

Local Boy Scout troops, particularly Troop 5, which is sponsored by VFW Post 3838, are repeat volunteers. Members of local VFW and American Legion chapters and their auxiliaries, as well as church, community and local youth Optimist groups, also volunteer often.

If there is a 40 percent or more chance of rain, the display is canceled. Wet flags that have to be stored before they get a chance to dry completely could become moldy, Humphries said.

Family members can replace their veteran's flag if it becomes too worn to display. John Hopkins, a Jackson resident and member of VFW Post 158, replaced the flag which honors his father, Ora S. Hopkins, earlier this year. The flag has flown in the display since the 1980s, Hopkins said.

To Hopkins, it is important to keep the flag of his World War I veteran father in the display, he said, to honor his service and for the community's enjoyment.

"I think it's quite a sight to see, even driving by," he said.

Humphries said there only used to be enough flags to place them along one of the park's shorter roads and circle the pole flying the park's large flag. Routes throughout the park have had flags added as the number has grown throughout the years. But he's seen additional flags popping up in other places in recent years, too, he said.

"People are more patriotic today than they were when I got back from Vietnam," Humphries said. "Seems like a lot are flying flags these days, in their yards or out in front of businesses. That's a good thing."

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

Cape County Park North, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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