Sometime in early December, thieves broke into the Key Peninsula Veterans storeroom at the KP Lutheran Church, ransacked the room and stole several valuable flags.
According to Frank Grubaugh, president of the veterans group, the flags are used in the annual Aisle of Honor ceremony.
“When the church folks discovered the break-in they called the police and then the police called us,”Grubaugh said.
At first, Grubaugh and his colleagues thought that they were missing about 60 coffin flags, he said. “The thieves had emptied the boxes of flags and used the empty boxes to carry away the other stuff,”he said.
“As it turns out we’re only missing two American flags and about six service flags. We’re also missing the silver place settings that we use in our Missing Man ceremony,” he said.
All in all, he said, around $2,000 worth of items were either stolen or destroyed. Since the break-in, the group has “beefed up”the door and locks to the storeroom, he said.
The flags that were stolen are used in the organization’s annual Aisle of Honor ceremony held every May at the Vaughn Cemetery. “Ours is the biggest Aisle of Honor west of the Mississippi,”Grubaugh said.
The ceremony honors all who have served their country –– not just the fallen, he added.
Volunteers put out flags in the cemetery –– one for each veteran who is somehow tied to a local Key Peninsula family. Each flag goes on a specific pole with a name on it.
Since the first ceremony in 1990, the number of flags has increased from 54 to more than 300.
“I can’t describe what it feels like when you stand in that field and you see all those flags flying. The emotions just run the gamut,”he said.
The two American flags that were stolen can’t be replaced because they were coffin flags, Grubaugh said. They belonged to the families of the departed veterans and they’re irreplaceable.
“What the thieves have taken from us isn’t ‘things,’”he said. “They’ve taken a sense of security and a feeling of well-being.”
The “overriding thing”is that this kind of thing can happen to anyone, he added. “The sheriff department says it’s all related to drug use.”
To learn more about the Key Peninsula Veterans visit keypeninsulaveterans.com. To donate funds to replace the items that were stolen, call Grubaugh at (253) 509-8656.