Focus: A Memorial Flag Day for Fair Haven Fire Department’s Departed

“Where’s your father?” my Fair Haven neighbor shouted to me from across the street some years ago a bit before Memorial Day.

“Uh, whaaat??” I answered with a chuckle. “Um, he’s in the cemetery?”

“Which one?” he asked.

A bit befuddled and more focused on taking the garbage out than my long-deceased dad’s whereabouts, I shook my head and laughed as he continued with “We can’t find him.”

OK, so it wasn’t as darkly comedic a moment as I had thought. I should have known. The Fair Haven Fire Department (FHFD) members were setting out to honor members who had passed by posting In Memoriam flags at their gravesites, never forgetting them and letting cemetery visitors know that they had served in the all-volunteer fire company, auxiliary, fire police or first aid.

It’s a ritual. And no Memorial Day is an exception.

FHFD members headed out Tuesday evening, as the sun began to set,” a post from the FHFD said. “Members from all the fire company organizations gathered at several cemeteries and honored our members who have passed by placing FHFD flags at their gravesites.”

There’s a small, dedicated army behind the memorial markings.

The gravesite decorating operation, as a whole, is spearheaded by whomever is second assistant chief in the department each year.

This year, that’s Matt Lang. Other members take the lead in certain areas of their own local expertise and volition. There are always one or two who also make sure the cemeteries out of the immediate area are covered. In the past, that person was Larry Hartman (2018 being his last year).

More locally, there are teams designated, or self-designated, to certain cemeteries. For instance, member Tricia Brett leads the way at Mount Olivet Cemetery. Then there are others locally that are “flagged” by other teams. The Auxiliary handles those departed members’ gravesites. There are family-provided lists and maps, GPS these days, camaraderie and even fire department family helpers.

Those who place the flags at Fairview Cemetery take a moment at the end of the graveyard journey to reflect at the grave of longtime gone member Artie Bennett.

Hartman, who took the reins on the leadership of the flag placement in 1980 through 2019, had said that his guess is that there are roughly 250 members buried in the area.

As for those buried out of the area, Hartman had estimated that about 500 miles throughout the rest of the state is usually covered to get to another roughly 50 members’ tombstones with the flags.

For those who are buried out of state or have family members who wish to have flags for other memorial sites, the family members are given flags.

The flags and shields are placed. The day is done. They are remembered.

Where’s my dad? Bill Van Develde? Keyport. St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Keyport. Sally? She’s right next to him.

“Got it,” he said.

“Thank you for remembering them,” I said with a sniffle.

Thanks to all those departed FHFD members. You are remembered.

Photo/Larry Hartman

— Photos/FHFD Media (upper gallery, 2024; and lower gallery, years past)