Date: January 9, 2007
Byline: Ben Botkin
Cemetery squabble continues as widow flies flag again
KEITHSBURG — A large American flag is again flying at half-staff above the grave of Petty Officer 1st Class Jerry Tharp. How long it will be there is up in the air.
The flag is at the center of a dispute between Petty Officer Tharp's widow, Gayle Tharp, and trustees of Greenmound Cemetery in Keithsburg. Cemetery trustees say its presence is a violation of Greenmound's written regulations; Mrs. Tharp says it's a monument to her husband and other military personnel.
Petty Officer Tharp, a 44-year-old Seabee assigned to Arsenal Island's Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 25, was killed July 12 by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
Mrs. Tharp and the cemetery's board have been squabbling about the flag and other decorations on her husband's grave — a park-type bench and a large statue of a deer — for weeks.
The cemetery's regulations ban objects that are inconsistent with proper keeping of the grounds, includes boxes, jars, cans, toys, candles and other items that could interfere with mowing. The regulations also permit cemetery staff to remove any objects placed on the gravesites.
Last month Barry Heath, a trustee on the cemetery board, removed the flag. Cemetery officials returned the flag to her last week.
Mr. Heath said he was under the impression that the issue was being resolved. "We thought she was working with us," he said.
But Mrs. Tharp put the flag back on the grave last Thursday. She said that her husband loved the flag — even carrying one with him to Iraq — and would have wanted one at his grave.
"I'm just trying to support my husband," Mrs. Tharp said. "He was very adamant about flying that flag."
She said cemetery officials haven't contacted her since she put the flag up again.
"I haven't heard any grief about it as of yet," she said Monday.
Mr. Heath said that the cemetery board has talked with an attorney about the issue. Greenmound sent Mrs. Tharp a certified letter last month, giving her until Jan. 21 to clear the objectionable items from the gravesite.
The deer statue has since been removed, but the bench, flag and flagpole remain.
Beyond that, Mr. Heath isn't sure what to expect. "I have no idea what it's going to come to," he said.
The laws relating to the U.S. flag are found in detail in the United States Code, Title 4. These laws are supplemented by executive orders and presidential proclamations. Among the provisions in the code:
-- The flag may be flown at half-staff by presidential proclamation or by proclamation of a state's governor.
-- Flags displayed outdoors 24 hours a day are to be properly illuminated at night. Otherwise, flags are to be flown outdoors only from sunrise to sunset.
For more information on flag display rules and etiquette, see www.ushistory.org/betsy/flagetiq.html.
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