Thieves stole flags and fuel from the Maple Grove Cemetery before Monday morning.
Six days a year, the crisp flutters and snaps of hundreds of U.S. flags rippling to prairie winds along the Maple Grove Cemetery Avenue of Flags is the only sound that observers of a silent moment will hear.
When the thieves cut locks, syphoned fuel and stole at least a dozen of the flags out of a shed owned by the VFW, the stillness across the graves was likely punctuated by the constant, gentle ringing of steel halyard clips tapping against metal flag poles.
City workers reported the break-in Monday morning.
At this point, it's not clear if the thief or thieves work was disturbed, causing them to flee, or if they couldn't find anything they could lift other than fuel and boxes of new Old Glories — American-made, 5-feet by 8-feet, sewn from cotton bunting.
The organizers of the Avenue of Flags — the GI Forum, VFW and the American Legion — are reaching out to Dodge Citians to help them make it whole.
Following a post to the Dodge City Chat Facebook group Thursday, residents are already stepping forward and helping, Avenue of Flags volunteer Bob Hughes said.
The flag-flying tradition has been in Dodge City since at least 1978. Each of the flag poles was erected in memory of a veteran, their names and service appended to small bronze plaques.
This is the first time something like this has happened, Hughes said.
The next time the flags will fly is Memorial Day, May 26, a day of observance originally founded to remember the hundreds of thousands of Americans killed during the Civil War, but has expanded memorialize all of America's fallen soldiers.
Boy Scout troops help fly the flags on Independence Day, Flag Day, Veterans Day, September 11 and December 7 — Pearl Harbor Day.
Along with the flags purchased through the VFW fly special government spec flags, 5-feet by 9.5-feet — burial flags — donated in memory of the loved ones whose caskets the flags draped.
Though raised only a few days a time, the stiff winds and west Kansas elements can be hard on the thick cotton cloth. As flags wear they are retired, requiring a small but constant supply of replacements. The flags stolen were still in the shipping boxes, organizers said.
The cotton bunting flags can be purchased from the VFW through the Valley Forge Flag company, a U.S. government supplier, for between $50 and $60.
Hughes and his wife, Sonya, are collecting donations at Legends Printing at 901 North Second Avenue during normal business hours. For more information, you can contact them at 620-225-5837. They are accepting money or flags of the same manufacturer, size and material to those stolen.
Dodge City police have collected evidence from the cemetery, and are unsure if the break-in is connected to a theft of over $15,000 in landscaping equipment stolen from Legends Field Tuesday.
The thieves would have likely needed a covered trailer to make off with the two small utility vehicles and edgers that were stolen, Deputy Police Chief Drew Francis.
If any resident has information on the two break-ins, contact the Dodge City Police Department at 620-225-8126.