Congressional candidate donates 18,000 American flags to East Tennessee military cemetery


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — With Memorial Day just around the corner, many enjoy a day on the lake or a barbecue with family and friends, but hundreds traveled from Tennessee and Virginia to Mountain Home National Cemetery Saturday morning to honor those who died while serving in the U.S. military.

When congressional candidate for Tennessee’s 1st district, Jay Adkins, discovered that the Boy Scouts were unable to distribute the thousands of flags among the headstones due to the pandemic, he knew he had to improvise — and quickly.

Adkins told News Channel 11 he received word the Scouts wouldn’t be able to partake in the traditional flag placements last Friday, and within two days along with communication with the VA, Adkins was able to order 18,000 flags.

“When I found out that the Boy Scouts weren’t going to be able to put out the flags and that the VA wasn’t going to be providing them, I just thought something had to be done,” Adkins said. “I thought that there’s a problem here; I thought that this is a longstanding tradition, and so I said, ‘Well, I’ve got to find a solution.’”

As a congressional candidate, Adkins didn’t distribute the flags to the headstones himself to avoid politicizing the event — that’s where the volunteers pitched in to help.

“The volunteer spirit is definitely alive here in East Tennessee,” Adkins said. “I was blown away by the community. We had people coming from as far as Knoxville; we had people come from as far as Virginia.

“Once the word got out, it spread like wildfire. . . My plan was to start at 8 a.m., but we had people waiting in line at 7:45 a.m., so we got the flags distributed. We had so many people here; if I had to guess, we had between 150-200 people come to volunteer to do this.”

Dozens upon dozens of vehicles filled with volunteers lined West Main Street as Adkins handed out hundreds of boxes of American flags from the Johnson City/ Washington County Veterans’ Memorial.

According to Adkins, volunteers placed the 18,000 flags to their respective headstones that spanned across almost 100 acres within two hours.

Saturday’s flag distribution came as a second nature deed to Adkins, who is a veteran himself. He spent months overseas in Iraq as a cavalry scout within the Tennessee Army National Guard.

“Veterans issues are important to me,” Adkins said. “I just knew that something had to be done, and I was going to find a way to do it.”

The grassroots candidate scraped the flag funds from his campaign savings in an effort to ensure those laid to rest at the Mountain Home National Cemetery weren’t forgotten this Memorial Day.

Community members are encouraged to stop by the cemetery to view the thousands of flags this Memorial Day.

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