FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentucky has started lowering flags to half-staff only for fallen soldiers from the Bluegrass State, upsetting veterans and lawmakers who say the policy dishonors tens of thousands of service members from other states stationed at installations such as Fort Campbell and Fort Knox.
Gov. Steve Beshear last month changed the old policy of lowering state and U.S. flags to half-staff from the announcement of any Kentucky-based soldier's death until his or her funeral. Now the flag will be lowered only for Kentucky natives and even then only on the day they are buried.
Maj. Gen. Edward Tonini, Kentucky's adjutant general, said the previous policy made it impossible to tell who was being honored and led to lengthy stretches where flags were lowered for multiple people. Between April 1 and July 2, the state lowered flags for 26 soldiers, only four from Kentucky.
"At one period in time, the flag was at half-staff for about a month consecutively," Tonini said. "And, who was that for? You just don't know."
Ken Hart, state adjutant for the American Legion of Kentucky, which represents 33,000 veterans, called the new policy ridiculous.
"If they served in a military installation within the confines of Kentucky, let's acknowledge them then and pay them the respect that we should," he said.
Policies vary from state to state. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm caused controversy there two years ago by ordering state and U.S. flags flown at half-staff when soldiers died. Critics said the policy violated the U.S. Flag Code, which was intended to honor only high-ranking government and elected officials. At the time, governors in about a dozen other states had issued similar orders.
Tonini said an internal review found the Kentucky's old policy was among the nation's broadest. Michigan was the only other state to lower flags for such a long time, while many states had no protocol at all.
In North Carolina, for instance, home to Fort Bragg, cities and towns decide whether to lower flags. There is no state policy. Tennessee, which touches Fort Campbell, lowers the flag twice a year on holidays to honor fallen veterans.
Several Fort Campbell soldiers killed since the policy took effect, including Sgt. 1st Class Steven J. Chevalier of Michigan, Army Spc. Estell Turner of South Dakota and Sgt. First Class Gerard M. Reed of Florida, were honored by flags flying at half-staff in their home states.
Lt. Nick A. Dewhirst, a Fort Campbell-based soldier from Wisconsin, was killed in Afghanistan on Sunday. His home state is expected to lower flags in his honor for the day of his funeral, said Carla Vigue, a spokeswoman for Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle.
Still, state Rep. Tim Moore, who served in Afghanistan as a member of the Kentucky Air National Guard, said residents around Fort Knox consider soldiers part of their community.
"We will continue to pay our respects to those folks who pay the ultimate sacrifice," Moore said. "It's just disappointing and hurtful that the state would declare otherwise for those who are not legal residents of the state."