Lewis Griswold

Lew Griswold: Proud son fights for flag on father's grave

Doug Silveria of Visalia often visits his father's grave at Visalia District Cemetery, where he placed "three little Navy flags and a pin" to honor his father's World War II service.

But in February, his mother called in tears: the flags and pin were gone.

Cemetery workers threw them away because it's against policy to have bric-a-brac on graves; only silk, plastic or fresh, unwilted flowers are allowed, and everything is cleared in February.

Silveria complained to the board of directors -- "veterans have a right to have a flag," he said -- but last week they voted to keep the policy as is.

Tom Link, president of the cemetery board and a lifelong Visalian, said he considers Silveria to be a friend. But Link said the policy is needed, because flags and other objects get in the way of grass mowing equipment and can create a liability.

"We voted not to change, but to have our staff be sensitive to those in bereavement and those decorating their grave site," Link said.

Flags are placed on graves on Memorial Day, he said.

Clovis Cemetery also has been removing flags, often placed by families of war dead who then bring a new one.

"This is such a sensitive issue," Clovis Cemetery manager Anna Herrera said. "I don't know that there is a right or wrong" way.

Flags are allowed at Clovis on Memorial Day, Flag Day, Veterans Day and Fourth of July. Otherwise they are removed, although it can be awhile until staff can collect them.

At Fresno Memorial Gardens, small flags are allowed in permanent flower vases, and so far they haven't been a problem, office manager Laura Steiner said.

Each cemetery sets its own rules and there's no standard policy about flowers, flags, crosses and other items, said Carol Giese, executive director of the California Association of Public Cemeteries.

Strict guidelines keep cemeteries clean and dignified, said Tim Unruh, manager of Shafter Memorial Park in Kern County.

If a flag is allowed, it won't be long before someone will bring in a bigger one, he said.

"It's a no-win," he said.

But Silveria said he's not giving up his quest to keep a flag permanently anchored in the flower vase at his father's grave.

"There has to be more leeway," Silveria said.

Tulare Co. Employee of the Year named

Tulare County sheriff's Sgt. Kevin Kemmerling has been named 2012 Tulare County Employee of the Year.

Kemmerling, 41, stood out from 130 nominations by scouting illegal marijuana growing operations and developing a training exercise for river rescues.

Kemmerling, a former manager of The Springville Inn, volunteered for a search and rescue team and liked it so much he enrolled in a police academy and got hired at the Sheriff's Department.

He attended Drug Enforcement Administration aerial observation school and can spot a hidden mountain grow site from a helicopter.

For swift water rescue, he developed a training exercise for U.S. Forest Service employees and other river area first responders in the proper use of a "throw bag" -- throwing a rope across a river so that someone in distress can grab it and safely drift to shore on the current.

After they get the training, first responders are less likely to need assistance from a search and rescue team, Kemmerling said.