Vernon Hills officials say it's time to stop flying flags at half-staff for COVID-19 victims
A state directive to fly the American flag at half-staff to honor those who've died in Illinois from COVID-19 has run its course and flags again should be raised to full height, Vernon Hills officials say.
Village officials say the symbolic gesture of lowering the flag historically has been reserved to recognize military members and first responders who died in the line of duty, or the death of notable public servants.
Now that a coronavirus vaccine has been approved and is being administered, the directive to fly the U.S. and state flags at half-staff should end "as a symbol of hope for the future," village officials say.
In a letter to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Mayor Roger Byrne said flags have been at half-staff for nine months and "our residents are numb to the gesture, and most do not even know why the flags have been lowered.
"During the same time period, there have been service members, as well as law enforcement and firefighters, killed in the line of duty during this never-ending period of mourning," Byrne wrote.
"Recognition of their sacrifices has become diminished; a footnote to seeing the flag lowered," the letter states.
The idea to write Pritzker was suggested by village Trustee Jim Schultz. The village board concurred and a draft was circulated for thoughts and input before being sent to Pritzker, according to Village Manager Mark Fleischhauer.
Schultz, an Army veteran, said the village years ago began a practice of honoring the fallen with a condolence letter and photo of the flag at half-staff. And with the support of its public works team, the village established a flag protocol.
"We got a significant amount of feedback," including cards of thanks, Schultz said. "That got me in the mode of making sure the flags were correct," he added.
A month or so ago, he noticed flags on various municipal buildings in the area were at different heights and began looking into the matter.
"We're losing something here," said Schultz, a member of the AMVETS post in Wheeling and American Legion post in Vernon Hills. "Several of my brethren were thinking along the same lines."
In April, Pritzker notified all entities covered by the Illinois Flag Display Act to fly American and state flags at half-staff to honor those who died from COVID-19 in Illinois. But there was no termination date, Byrne wrote, and the idea was to continue the practice until the pandemic ended.
Schultz said he is "exceedingly saddened" by the deaths, disruption, and hardship caused by the virus but felt the flag matter should be given serious consideration.
"There's not going to be an end, so to speak, it's just going to wind it's way down. No 'mission accomplished' kind of thing," Schultz said.
"Let's utilize this (flag act) as it was initially intended," he added.
If the governor wants a visible symbol to honor COVID victims in Illinois, the letter suggests, state flags can be flown as half-staff with American flags returned to full height.
Pritzker's press staff did not respond for comment.