By: KDKA-TV’s Jennifer Borrasso
BUTLER, Pa. (KDKA) — American flags and wreaths were dumped in the woods behind Butler County Memorial Park & Mausoleum.
A local man captured the scene and posted a video to Facebook on Monday. Paul Simms, the cemetery’s manager, told KDKA’s Jennifer Borrasso that this was a one-time mistake.
Bill Rape is an Army veteran from Zelienople who went to the cemetery after he saw the video from the gravesite where 2,000 veterans are buried.
“Insulted, very insulting,” said Rape. “I couldn’t believe it. They were just thrown in the dirt.”
On Tuesday, Rape said he went to the cemetery and most of the flags were gone. He picked up 40 remaining flags and took them to the American Legion in Zelienople, where they hold a flag burning ceremony on Flag Day.
“I wore that flag on my shoulder,” said Rape. “That’s our flag.”
Army veteran Charles Sterner was offended by the dumping.
“It makes you sad and angry,” said Sterner, “that people would disrespect the flag and do that. The flag means everything to me.”
Simms apologized on Tuesday night.
“I’m very sorry about it, too,” said Simms. “It never should have happened. It’s a bad mistake.”
“We normally bury them out in the field somewhere,” added Simms. “The normal procedure is when the flags are removed from the graves of veterans, they are immediately taken down into the building and processed in the building.
“We bundle all of the flags together, place them in a large cardboard box, duct tape that cardboard box shut. Usually, dig a hole three to four feet in the ground, per the (Department of Defense) regulations and place that box in the ground and fill it.”
Simms says he reprimanded three employees, including one new worker, for the incident.
“The new guy was reprimanded severely,” said Simms. “He is extremely sorry. He was crying to me.”
Simms showed KDKA’s Jennifer Borrasso the flags that were cleaned up by his employees. The box of cleaned-up flags is now in a storage building.
Simms said he plans to contact the American Legion and the VFW to help with a flag ceremony this weekend at the cemetery.
“I’m truly very sorry that this event happened,” said Simms. “And it’s a one-time mistake. My own father is a combat-wounded veteran.”