By Bonnie Culverhouse
The Avenue of Flags, now in its thirty-ninth year, is a stunning display of patriotism and is the largest display of memorial flags in the United States, and this Memorial Day a local soldier’s memory will be honored.
Sponsored by Sons of the American Revolution (SAR), the display is in Lake Charles each year.
“Every year, the SAR and those running it take a deceased Louisiana soldier and he is honored that day,” said Minden resident Jerry Madden. “They chose our son this year.”
Jerry and Cindy Madden’s son, Sgt. Josh Madden, lost his life along with four other soldiers on December 6, 2006 as the result of a massive explosion in Hawija, Iraq.
“We will have to take his burial flag with us when we go,” Madden said. “They will hang it in reverence to the soldier. We sent them a lot of pictures and every article written about him, and they compiled it all. They have a collage of pictures.”
Madden said the commander of Fort Polk – Col. Samuel Smith – will be there to speak about Sgt. Madden, and Jerry Madden will talk about his son.
Flags are flown on both sides of the graveled roads winding through Orange Grove Graceland Cemetery, on Broad Street in Lake Charles, each Memorial Day and Veterans Day. The flags are raised at sunrise; 6 a.m. and retired at 5 p.m., prior to sunset. Visitors are welcome to tour the Avenue of Flags by either walking, cycling or driving alongside the winding, gravel roads.
New this year, The History Walk will start with the Betsy Ross flag and continue to the current 50-star U.S. flag. Stationed by each of the 27 flags, there will be a QR code to reveal a historical perspective of a moment in time when the featured flag was being flown across America. In addition, all 50 state flags will be flown alongside their place in history to further represent the formation of the United States as we know it today.
The mission of the Avenue of the Flags is to respectfully display the American flag on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day to honor our United States veterans of all branches of the military, past and present. The project was started in 1983 by the Southwest Louisiana Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR). The then-president of the organization, the late Dr. Rex Smelser, envisioned it as becoming the largest display of United States flags in the nation. Beginning with just 50 flags that first year, it has now grown to over 1085 in number. The Avenue of Flags has been recognized and honored with awards, including an official ‘Southern Travel Treasure’ by Southern Traveler in 2009, and the ‘Top 20 Events in the Southeast’ in 2004, 2012, 2013, and 2015 by the Southeast Tourism Society.
Each of the flags represents an individual veteran and is the official “casket flag” presented to the family at the funeral. Each flag is numbered, and information about the veteran is cataloged for reference. The families have in turn loaned or donated the flags to the SAR for use in the patriotic Avenue of Flags display. In addition to the memorial flags, the Avenue of Flags also features a history circle where replicas of eight previous United States flags are flown. The memorial flags measure 5 feet by 9 ½ feet and are generally found to be too large for proper display at home.
Annually, on Memorial Day, a recently deceased veteran is memorialized in a very special, moving ceremony that morning in the cemetery where his or her flag is hoisted on a pole, and a eulogy is given along with other patriotic speeches and patriotic music. SAR members from around the state come to participate dressed in colonial military uniforms. All five branches of the military have representatives in attendance along with the Lake Charles Mayor and the Bishop of the Diocese of Lake Charles. On Veterans Day, the Avenue of Flags is erected for viewing, but services are not commenced.
The SAR members, and many other volunteers from several other organizations including, but not limited to, local Boy Scout troops, local Cub Scout troops, ROTC, The Blue Knights, Army Reserve, US Coast Guard, Marine Corp League, LA National Guard, American Legion, local businesses, etc., erect the display on each Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Each year, a local Boy Scout completes his/her final project to become an Eagle Scout, enhancing the Avenue of Flags.
*In cases of inclement weather, flags will not be displayed.
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