The American flags that were vandalized and strewn at a Columbia cemetery this weekend are to be honored and disposed of properly by being cremated with military veterans.
Dozens of flags that marked the graves of veterans were damaged by a vandal at Greenlawn Memorial Park, where nearly 200 graves were desecrated late Saturday or early Sunday ahead of the Independence Day holiday.
Some flags were pulled from the ground, torn and thrown and strewn, while others were ripped from their wooden sticks or shredded. Flowers and vases on many graves also were damaged.
Some well-meaning residents cleaning up the park Sunday threw the damaged flags in the trash, general manager Suzanne Elkins said Monday. Park staff collected the flags to be properly disposed according to United States law.
“It’s really important,” she said of disposing of American flags with honor. “We take old and tattered American flags all throughout the year. When a veteran is cremated, we cover his cremation container with a flag so it’s burned appropriately with them.”
The veteran’s family receive a certificate with the veteran’s cremated remains stating that their loved one and the flag were cremated with honor.
Columbia police announced early Monday that they arrested Justin Scott Beach, 24, in connection with the vandalism. He was being held in the Richland County jail under a $25,000 surety bond. A The motive for damaging the gravesites was not immediately clear.
Park officials have not determined if any specific graves were targeted. The flowers and vases at some non-military graves had been dislodged or shredded.
Elkins said Sunday that four or five sections of the cemetery were affected It looked like a “mini-tornado” went through parts of some sections, she said, adding that no particular kinds of graves were targeted.
Family members Elkins spoke with Sunday were in tears after learning of the vandalism to their loved ones’ graves.
“Who would do this to my mother?” one asked Elkins. “Who would do this to my husband?” said another.