The “Avenue of Flags” at Washington Crossing National Cemetery is truly a majestic sight. It consists of over 145 U.S. flags flown at the top of 20’ removable poles along the roads at designated times of the year. The flags are 4 ½’ x 9’ burial size flags with the poles being approximately 30’ apart.
This relatively new policy within the National Cemetery Administration is a change from the tradition of placing U.S. stick flags at each Veterans grave within a National Cemetery for Memorial Day. Many of us may be familiar with this tradition from photos we see of Arlington National Cemetery each year.
The primary reason for the change from stick flags to the “Avenue of Flags” is manpower. At Arlington, the stick flags are placed by active duty soldiers assigned to Ft Myer, which is adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery. Manpower there is not a problem. At most National Cemeteries this task would need to be accomplished by volunteers which poses a problem in having enough volunteers each year. The “Avenue of Flags” has been adopted nationwide.
Many military traditions have an underlying significant meaning, and the “Avenue” is no different. The flags to be flown on the Avenue are to be burial flags presented to the Next of Kin at the burial of their loved one which the family has donated to the cemetery specifically to be flown on the Avenue of Flags.
The burial flag presented to families at their loved ones’ funeral is made of cotton and if exposed to the weather more than a few times a year, would deteriorate rapidly. So, the “Avenue” is displayed only a few times a year, at the discretion of the Director of the cemetery. At Washington Crossing National Cemetery this is generally Memorial Day and Veterans Day, along with other special days.