EXETER, R.I. (WPRI) — “It just broke my heart because everyone in this cemetery fought under that banner and every fiber of that flag is their blood, sweat, and tears.”
Stan Sniezyk visits his father’s grave every week at the Rhode Island Veterans Cemetery, and that was his reaction when he saw piles of torn and tattered American flags at the cemetery in Exeter last weekend.
The photos Sniezyk submitted to our sister station, WPRI showed two piles of flags: one by a dumpster and the other by an open storage shed.
His photos were shared thousands of times on social media within a couple of days and sparked fury, especially among veterans and their families.
“I’ve been getting messages from California, Texas, Connecticut, Florida,” he said. “People are absolutely outraged at what they’ve done, how they’ve disgraced the American flag in a veterans cemetery of all places.”
Kasim Yarn, the state’s new director of Veterans Affairs, was one of the people who saw the photos online and said he went right to the cemetery.
“I was speechless when I saw,” he recalled. “Flags were not stowed properly and prepared for proper disposal. Flags were in bags, on the ground. The place was a mess, totally. Procedures weren’t being followed.”
Yarn said he’s implementing updated policies to make sure flags are properly folded and stored, as well as starting a new inspection process at the cemetery.
“At very minimum, I will go there weekly and walk around,” he said. “I will open up all those doors, every facility, to ensure things are being placed in a proper manner.”
The flags seen in the photos were properly burned after the cemetery got a permit from the Exeter Fire Department.