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Flags For Fallen Vets

For the past few years, Nikki Balasch has been among the few thousand volunteers who give up part of their Memorial Day to plant US flags on the graves of those interred at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, Florida. 

“I have a passion for veterans explained Balasch,” an Inverness resident whose father and father-in-law served in Vietnam, and who had a grandfather and uncle who fought in World War II. “It’s a small gesture, but it makes a big difference in the lives of family members who are still here.”

Last year, due to COVID-19, the yearly tribute to the deceased veterans was dropped as the virus forced the National Cemetery Administration, which is an arm of the US Department of Veterans Affairs, to stop all funerals in its facilities one year ago. They didn’t resume until June.

At present, the VA says all cemeteries are open for burials, given those ceremonies abide by regulations to limit gatherings, wear masks and maintain social distance.

”With the increasing number of people getting vaccinated and things opening up around the country, especially in Florida, we’re very, very hopeful.” said Phil Beatty, a resident of the Village of Charlotte, who coordinates the flag-planting and retrieval for the Flags for Fallen Vets group.

While the guidelines for this Memorial Day are still being drafted, Beatty stated that donations and volunteer enrollment for Flags for Fallen Vets are lagging. The group has raised about one-third of the donations it normally needs, mainly for supplies, such as replacement flags, staffs, and plastic bins to store them.

According to Beatty, in previous years, Flag for Fallen Vets had about 2,700 people to plant flags at more than 125,000 graves. So far in 2021, he has managed to gather about 1,700 volunteers, and he is certain that the job can be done with what he has now. But the extra 1,000 volunteers mean the difference between spending four hours marking each grave and finishing in two hours.

“We need folks to volunteer, and we need people to donate. It keeps getting bigger and bigger,” said Beatty. “Each volunteer is asked to place the flag a foot from the grave marker, and then step back, salute and say the deceased’s name and thank them for their service. That may be the only time all year somebody says that name,” he added.

On June 6, volunteers will head back to the cemetery to retrieve the flags.

Based on experience, that crowd is going to be much smaller ­– perhaps 80% smaller, according to Beatty– than the one that places the flags.

“If you’ve never had a chance to experience it, you should drive through before the flags are installed and after that. That amount of patriotism, that’s what chokes me up every year,” Balasch said.

For further updates on how to volunteer or to make a tax-deductible donation to the organization, visit, or contact Beatty at

Attributed Source, The Villages Daily Sun