A Pennsylvania flag maker will not be allowed to sell American flags for this year's Memorial Day observances, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's administration ruled, according to a Tuesday report by the Reading Eagle.
The move could leave tens of thousands of veterans' graves unmarked by flags in Berks County and beyond this Memorial Day, as the local flag distributor, FlagZone LLC, has been forced to close operations amid the state's stay-at-home order.
"As the administration's main priority is protecting the health and well-being of Pennsylvanians, flagmaking operations are thus deemed non-life-sustaining," Casey Smith, the communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development, said in a statement to the local news outlet. "While FlagZone will unfortunately need to suspend its operations this year, we are hopeful that in the years to come, it will be able to continue to provide Pennsylvanians with a symbol of our patriotism for future Memorial Day celebrations."
FlagZone President Daniel Ziegler had appealed to the state to issue an exemption for his business so that the tradition of dressing 53,000 graves of fallen veterans could go on May 25 despite the coronavirus pandemic, but that appeal has been denied.
'Held hostage by our governor'
In an interview with Newsradio KDKA-AM host Wendy Bell Tuesday, Ziegler discussed how his company has been forcibly shut down and will likely be unable to reopen anytime soon.
"The best way I can describe it is that our stick flags have been held hostage by our governor," Ziegler said.
According to the local station, FlagZone, "the last American flag producer in the state," produces 5 million to 7 million stick flags each year for counties in Pennsylvania and around the country.
On Memorial Day, the 53,000 flags were scheduled to be distributed to 233 cemeteries across the county by a volunteer workforce. But after the company's closing, the flags — which have already been produced — are unable to be shipped.
Ziegler told the Reading Eagle last week that he could easily have the flags shipped on short notice if just a handful of workers were allowed to return to the factory. He even suggested that people could potentially come pick up orders of the flags, but that reportedly isn't allowed, either.
Allowed to make face masks, but not flags
A local manufacturer, Colebrook Enterprises, which works with FlagZone to make flags was reportedly granted exemption by the state in order to make face masks in recent weeks — but not flags.
Colebrook's president, Vincent Naso, lamented the move, arguing that it sent an incoherent message to the workers.
"The people are here saying we're making face masks, why can't we make flags since we're here?" he asked.
Despite complaints, the Wolf administration has not backed off their hard stance. The governor threatened withholding earmarked funds to local municipalities that refuse to comply with his stay-at-home order, which now extends to June 4.
President Trump plans to travel to Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Thursday, which is just an hour outside of Berks County. It's unclear at this point whether Trump plans to make mention of Wolf's lockdown measures, but the president has expressed support for Pennsylvanians who are urging that the state reopen.