Cumberland County officials said Friday that they intend to make their veterans cemetery in Hopewell Township more uniform and military by strictly enforcing what kind of displays are allowed on burial plots.
Beginning March 15, workers will remove all solar lights, plants, “personal items of sentiment,” pictures and other items not allowed under regulations that govern the cemetery.
Cumberland County Veterans Affairs Director Diana Pitman said crews have already removed flags left at graves because they violate the U.S. Flag Code. The code stipulates that American flags should only be flown from sunrise to sundown unless they are illuminated, she said.
Pitman said the county wants a veterans cemetery with a “pristine, simple appearance that lends integrity and honor to the military ways that each veteran participated in during their service. Uniformity is essential to honoring our veterans.”
Pitman said that uniformity involves a veterans cemetery with one or two cones of flowers placed above grave markers. She also said the cemetery — and not individual families — will place flags beside the flowers on special remembrance days.
The county is making some exceptions: Wreaths and floral arrangements are allowed for as long as one week for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day.
Enforcing the cemetery’s regulations on displays is not intended to be insensitive to families, Pitman said.
“It’s the difference between a civilian cemetery and a veterans cemetery,” Pitman said. “As a civilian, when you get up in the morning you are able to choose whatever outfit you want to wear that day. It can be any color, pattern or design. Individually, it looks beautiful.
“But when you put a group of civilians together with all the different colors, patters and accessories, it may look brash and out of sync by military standards. In the military, persons are taught uniformity. The same uniform is worn by all, and it must be worn a certain way so that when seen as a group, it is a portrait of a team rather than the individual.”
Cumberland County Freeholder Tony Surace, the freeholder liaison to Pitman’s office, said better enforcement of the rules will keep the cemetery beautiful and provide a dignified resting place for veterans.
“With total compliance from everyone, it will realize its full potential as a place that represents the unity of veterans as brothers and sisters in arms,” Surace said.
The decision to enforce the regulations was fully vetted with members of the county’s veterans advisory board, Pitman said. She said the board is “fairly representative” of veterans groups throughout the county, and that she has received phone calls from veterans who are “pleased that we are doing that.”
Rick Russo, commander of American Legion Post 82 in Millville, said he understands why cemetery officials want to better enforce the rules.
“You can’t let one guy do this and one guy do that,” Russo said. “If they’re going to enforce it 100 percent, then I would say OK.”
Rules about what can be left at grave sites at veterans cemeteries vary by county.
For instance, Cape May County’s veterans cemetery allows only fresh flowers in a bronze, recessed cup. No above-ground objects are to be placed in the cemetery.
Atlantic County allows families to leave pictures, flowers and other objects at grave sites. The cemetery clears those materials from the sites about once a month. Those clearing dates are posted so families can remove items they may want to keep.
Cumberland County’s veterans cemetery is located on Trench Road in Hopewell. About 500 veterans are buried at the facility.
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