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The Avenue of Flags

May 20, 2024 10:21AM ● By Kelsey Swire

Photo: Visit Lake Charles

The Avenue of Flags, celebrating 41 years, is a stunning display of patriotism and is the largest display of memorial flags in the United States. The flags are flown on both sides of the roads winding through Orange Grove-Graceland Cemetery - 2023 Broad St. in Lake Charles - each Memorial Day and Veterans Day. The flags are raised at 6:00 am and retired at 5:00 pm. The mission of the Avenue of Flags is to respectfully display the American flag to honor our United States veterans of all branches of the military, past and present. The project was started in 1983 by the Oliver Pollock Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR). The late president of the organization, Dr. Rex Smelser, envisioned it as becoming the largest display of United States flags in the nation. Beginning with just 50 flags that first years, it has now grown to over 1,193 flags. The Avenue of Flags has been recognized and honored with awards including an official 'Southern Travel Treasure' by Southern Traveler in 2009, and the 'Top 20 Events in the Southeast' in 2004, 2012, 2013 and 2015 by the Southeast Tourism Society.

Each of the flags represents an individual veteran and is the official "casket flag" presented to the family at the funeral. Each flag is numbered, and information about the veteran is catalogued for reference. The families have donated the flags to the SAR for use in the patriotic Avenue of Flags display. The memorial flags measure 5 feet by 9 1/2 feet and are found to be too large for proper display at home.

Annually, on Memorial Day, a recently deceased veteran is memorialized in a special and moving ceremony that morning in the cemetery where their flag is hoisted on a pole. A eulogy is given along with other patriotic speeches and music. SAR members from around the state come to participate, dressed in colonial military uniforms. All five branches of the military have representatives in attendance along with the Lake Charles Mayor and the Bishop of the Diocese of Lake Charles. On Veterans Day, the Avenue of Flags is erected for viewing, but services are not commenced.

The SAR members and many volunteers from other organizations and businesses erect the display on each Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Each year, a local Boy Scout completes his/her final project to become and Eagle Scout, enhancing the Avenue of Flags. After each presentation, local dry-cleaning owners donate their services to clean the flags as needed.

Visitors are welcome to tour the Avenue of Flags by either walking, cycling or driving. Everyone is also encouraged to take a stroll through "The History Walk," a new addition that tells the story of the progression of our flag. In our nation's history, the American flag changed 27 times due to the admission of newly formed states. The walk starts off with the first being the Betsy Ross, a 13-star flag, followed by the 13 state flags. The walk continues until the present day 50-star flag has been reached, followed by the final two state flags - Hawaii and Alaska. You will see OR codes for each flag to learn about how our flag developed through the years. The display became a reality through a grant given by the Visit Lake Charles grant program.

The public is invited to Orange Grove-Graceland Cemetery on May 27th, 2024 at 6:00 am to 5:00 pm to raise and retire the flags.