Memorial Day flags

Tom Courtney (left) and Crawford County Veterans Services director Tony Digiacomo carry flags to Courtney's vehicle on Thursday morning.

By law, Crawford County must have flags placed on the graves of all veterans in the county by Memorial Day. However, the COVID-19 pandemic nearly made this annual tradition an impossibility this year.

Typically, the Crawford County Veterans Services office places its order for flags several months in advance, according to Director Tony Digiacomo. This year, the order of 15,120 flags needed to cover every grave was made all the way back in February.

Because the office doesn't have enough space to store such a large quantity, the manufacturer is asked to not deliver the flags until much closer to the holiday. Digiacomo, who is new to running the service this year, followed this standard procedure as many of his predecessors had done.

Come late-March, however, the bad news came. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, FlagZone LLC announced it would be delayed in sending out the flags. FlagZone is located in Montgomery County, close to Philadelphia — among the first and hardest hit areas of the state when it came to the pandemic. As such, the county had been placed in lockdown early, preventing FlagZone workers from sending out the stock of flags.

“The president of the company said they had the inventory, but they’re not allowed to go out and ship them,” Digiacomo said.

At first, Digiacomo said he wasn’t too concerned. Memorial Day was still several weeks away, and there was still plenty of time to get the flags in, even if they were later than usual.

Then the pandemic and its associated lockdown carried on and on, and the director’s worry grew.

“Well, once we got to mid-April, we started stressing out a little bit,” he said.

Alternative options existed, but Digiacomo found those to be dead ends for various reasons. While surrounding states had less strict shutdown orders, the director wanted to ensure the purchase of flags was made from a Pennsylvania company.

Digiacomo sought quotes from other companies within the state, but those ended up being much more costly. When Crawford County ordered its flags earlier this year, it was as part of a multi-county purchase done with Clarion, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence and Venango counties, according to Digiacomo, which meant the flags came at a cheaper bulk rate.

In this case, Crawford County paid $9,072 for the flags from FlagZone. Compared to other companies within the state, Digiacomo said prices were “not worth it,” usually around $7,000 more.

Without other options, Digiacomo reached out to local elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly and state Rep. Brad Roae, as well as local veteran groups, asking them to contact Gov. Tom Wolf so he could issue an exception to allow FlagZone to make the deliveries.

On May 15, good news finally came through. FlagZone announced it had received the exception from the governor and would move forward with delivering the flags. For Digiacomo, who was trying to avoid a disaster in his first year as director, it was a major relief.

“I feel really good about what happened,” he said. “The process actually worked. We went to our elected officials, our elected officials went to our governor, and the governor made an exception.”

The flags were delivered on Wednesday and distributed to 33 county veterans groups on Thursday and today. These groups now begin the task of placing all of those flags on the many veterans’ graves, with not a moment to spare.

“We’ll make the Memorial Day deadline, but it’s going to be close,” Digiacomo said.

Sean P. Ray can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at sray@meadvilletribune.com.

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