Avenue of 444 Flags is Tribute To All Who Served

HERMITAGE, Pa. — Every day is Memorial Day at America’s Cemetery at 2619 East State St.

Among the many services provided to veterans and their families in their final rest, the cemetery is also home to Avenue of the 444 Flags, which commemorates the 444 days of captivity after the American Embassy in Tehran, Iran, was overtaken on Nov. 4, 1979, with 52 hostages inside.

The late Tom Flynn, then owner of the park, wanted to call attention to the hostage crisis, doing so by raising a single American flag surrounded by 50 state flags at the entrance to the park. The community quickly joined the effort, with 100 flagpoles – representing the first 100 days – donated by Wheatland Tube, which were then installed by United Steelworkers International Union Local 1660.

On the 100th day, Harry Matrinko, father of hostage Michael Matrinko, raised the 100th flag. Without a resolution to the conflict, one flagpole was added each day thereafter. On Jan. 20, 1981, 444 days after the embassy was surrendered, the final flag was raised. Today, the three rows of flags still fly along the roadway and around the circle that features the War on Terror Memorial.

The Avenue of 444 Flags is a visual reminder about the crisis, attracting thousands of people to the park each year, often by the bus load, says office manager Michelle Wesoloski. The project was even featured on the cover of Time magazine on Jan. 26, 1981, the first edition published after the hostages were released.

The flags continue to be replaced and maintained by the cemetery. According to the Avenue’s website, “More than 18,000 replacement flags have flown along the Avenue as a reminder that freedom isn’t free, and as a tribute to all men and women who have served in the armed forces of the United States of America.” The annual cost to replace the flags is around $7,500, Wesoloski said. Donations are always welcome by the Avenue of 444 Flags Foundation, a 501(c)3 charitable organization.

On Veteran’s Day 2012, the Avenue took on additional significance with the first interment of veterans in the Cremation Garden, located within the flags surrounding the War on Terror Memorial. The cremated remains of any veteran who has served honorably, as well as members of their family, can now be interred at the memorial.

With the establishment of the Cremation Garden came the Veterans Left Behind Project. Its purpose is to inter, at no cost, the cremated remains of veterans who are unclaimed across the country. The effort is a joint project of the Avenue of 444 Flags Foundation, funeral homes, mortuary schools and students, and others wishing to honor those who have not received a proper burial.

Another service offered by the cemetery is to provide carefully selected dogs from shelters and donated dogs, train them and place them with veterans suffering with emotional and physical issues. This is all at no cost to the veteran and includes food and veterinary care for the life of the dog.

Originally known as Hillcrest Memorial Park, the cemetery was renamed America’s Cemetery in 2014. Since 2006, the cemetery has also provided pet funeral services.

Flynn, who died in 2018, was always concerned for the final rest of veterans. On Veterans Day 1978, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War I, he established the Garden of Valor, a six-acre area for the burial of veterans. Monuments there honor veterans of World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Today, the cemetery is headed by Flynn’s son, John Flynn, who serves as president.

While the cemetery pays tribute to veterans every day, host to a public Memorial Day ceremony at 11 a.m. May 27, organized by Hickory VFW. The public is welcome.

For more information about America’s Cemetery, to view a virtual tour or search for names engraved on the Memorial Garden walls, visit AvenueOfFlags.com.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.