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Supply chain, labor issues mean fewer flags for Memorial Day ceremonies ×

Cedar Cliff Junior ROTC cadets place small U.S. flags on veteran's graves in Mt. Olivet Cemetery in New Cumberland, Pa., May. 27, 2021. Mark Pynes | mpynes@pennlive.com

UPDATE: A Dauphin County spokesman on Thursday morning said the county has received half its order, but the rest won’t arrive in time for Memorial Day events.

The labor shortage and supply chain problems are interfering with one long-standing Memorial Day tradition.

Officials in Dauphin and Lebanon counties this week said vendors were having trouble supplying small American flags commonly placed on graves of military veterans on Memorial Day.

In Dauphin County, officials said they won’t have the 20,000 flags they normally distribute prior to Memorial Day.

Lebanon County officials said they learned in February their normal vender wouldn’t be able to fill this year’s order. They ordered 13,000 flags from a different vendor, but as of mid-week were uncertain if the flags would arrive soon enough. They were considering options including borrowing some flags and replacing them with the eventual shipment.

Dauphin County gets its flags from U.S. Flag Maker in Marietta, Georgia.

Owner Steve Ehrlich said the availability of the variety of flags typically placed on veterans’ graves has been hurt by delays in shipments of wooden dowels from China, which has faced new COVID-19-related shutdowns. While the flags themselves are made in the United States, they’re attached to dowels which are commonly imported, Ehrlich said.

Ehrlich further said his company is dealing with a worker shortage that has affected its ability to fill orders, even with his staff working 50-hour weeks and weekend shifts.

Beyond that, there are more Memorial Day parades and events now that the COVID-19 pandemic has eased, resulting in greater demand for flags.

“There are more people getting out. There are more people buying flags,” he said.

Still, Ehrlich said his company, which also supplies numerous other counties in Pennsylvania, has been able to fill 95% of orders.

In fact, he expected the flags sought by Dauphin County to be ready to ship by the end of this week. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t allow Dauphin officials to distribute them as planned, he said.

Ehrlich took responsibility for the Dauphin situation, saying “this one slipped through … I feel terrible. We will try and make amends in some way for the lateness of the shipment.”

The shortage doesn’t seem to be having major, widespread impact on the availability of flags for Memorial Day, officially celebrated on Monday, and held to honor military service members who died in the course of duty.

John Getz, the adjutant quartermaster for the Pennsylvania Department of Veterans of Foreign Wars, said he’s heard of no shortage, and many organizations have already placed flags at cemeteries.

Ehrlich says he expects the shortage to be small and short-lived.

Rather, he worries about a different impact of higher labor and supply costs.

“My greater fear is there will be a slowdown in people buying flags because of the greater costs,” he said.

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