Spirit Lake Memorial Day events cancelled

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Avenue of Flags not expected to fly this year

The Dickinson County Courthouse lawn has been covered in red, white and blue for the Avenue of Flags for years on end — but not this year.

John Chappas, quartermaster of the Spirit Lake John W. Kidd VFW, on Thursday announced the decision to call off the Memorial Day weekend display. Volunteers from the Spirit Lake VFW, American Legion Post 23 and the general public have traditionally slid about 400 flags into post holes on the lawn in a matter of hours each year ahead of the holiday. Outbreaks of COVID-19 have prompted a state order limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people, and the local "Avenue of Flags" has drawn around 60 volunteers the past two years.

"We could do it with five," Chappas said. "I have no doubt about that, but getting them back down might take forever. Putting them up doesn't take long. Getting them down takes a lot longer, and you need a lot more help."

The Memorial Day Parade in Spirit Lake has also been cancelled, and the expected Memorial Day ceremony on the courthouse lawn will not be taking place either.

The Dickinson County Board of Supervisors supported the veterans' decision Tuesday, voting unanimously to cancel this year's Memorial Day ceremony and flag display on the courthouse lawn — specifically mentioning the decision came at the suggestion of the Spirit Lake VFW and American Legion.

"I really don't like to take that action, but I believe it's the right thing to do," Board Chairman Bill Leupold said.

Leupold said the veteran groups could potentially hold a belated Memorial Day ceremony come Veterans Day, if the November weather is agreeable.

The post commanders' decision to cancel the local celebration comes after Chappas and others began a $10,000 fundraising effort last fall to install new post holes for more flags at the intersection of Highways 71 and 9 in Spirit Lake. Chappas said about 96 post holes have already been installed thanks to donated manpower from both volunteers and local businesses. The corner was originally estimated to be large enough for about 50 more.

Chappas had helped get the project off the ground in response to the growing number of flags — each tagged with the name of a veteran. The number of flags has grown so great, many have had to be displayed inside the tower of Veteran's Plaza on the courthouse grounds rather than on the lawn as intended. Spirit Lake American Legion Commander Denny Perry had previously explained the 400-plus flags have to be put on a rotation. Each year, the flags bound for the tower are removed from their poles, folded and placed in a protective case by volunteers for display — the process is reversed when a flag has spent enough time out of rotation.

The Spirit Lake City Council unanimously voted Sept. 10, 2019, to allow city property on the southeast side of the highway intersection to be used for the Avenue of Flags.

"It’s a perfect fit and a very visible and appropriate way to honor our veterans," Spirit Lake City Administrator Gregg Owens said at the time. "The display at the courthouse looks terrific every year, gets a lot of community volunteers involved and a lot of people stop by to look at the flags, take photos and in many cases seek out the flag of their particular friend or family member. The organizations that came up with the idea really came up with something unique and meaningful."

But it seems it will be a bit longer before the flags are unfurled over the city's major crossroad.

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