By Brian Messenger
---- — METHUEN — Military veterans’ graves at Elmwood Cemetery were left covered with leaves and without American flags shortly before a city Veterans’ Day ceremony, prompting strong reactions from those in attendance.
“The cemetery looked disgusting,” said City Councilor Tom Ciulla at a recent meeting. “Veterans were crying actually looking at the gravestones. … Children, families, they were very, very upset.”
Ciulla sent a memo to Mayor Stephen Zanni looking for answers days after the Nov. 11 ceremony.
“Why did this problem happen?” wrote Ciulla. “There is no excuse for this happening on Veterans Day. What corrective action will you, as mayor, take to prevent this from happening in the future?”
City officials yesterday said the condition of the cemetery before the ceremony was the result of a scheduling mishap. The ceremony was held on a Sunday. Veterans’ Day is typically observed on a Monday.
Methuen Public Works Director Raymond DiFiore said leaves had been cleared from all but the veterans’ portion of the cemetery. Workers were scheduled to clear that portion of the cemetery and replace graveside flags with new ones early Monday.
“It was just a miscommunication,” said DiFiore, who served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. “I take the responsibility. I’m a veteran myself. If anybody was offended by that, I apologize.”
Elmwood Cemetery is on North Lowell Street (Route 113).
Methuen Veterans Services Director Thomas Hargreaves admitted yesterday that the cemetery “was not in the best of shape” before the ceremony, which took place after a Veterans’ Day parade and a similar observance at the Walnut Grove ceremony on Grove Street.
Moving forward, Hargreaves said he will communicate plans to the DPW for Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day two weeks in advance.
“That’s all it comes down to,” said Hargreaves. “It was unfortunate. Ray and I have discussed it and I think we know how we’re going to handle it. It’s just a case of communication.”