Veterans groups in Pennsylvania typically prepare for Memorial Day by placing small American flags beside the headstones where fallen service members have been laid to rest.

But when a state lawmaker from Erie County learned that the coronavirus pandemic might scuttle that sacred tradition, he posted about it on Facebook.

“Gov. Wolf is not allowing companies that distribute U.S. flags to ship out orders to be placed at veteran’s graves for Memorial Day,” State Rep. Brad Roae posted on May 11.

We wondered whether Gov. Tom Wolf had really blocked Pennsylvania-based American flag distributors from operating during the pandemic.

Roae, a Republican, did not return a call seeking comment on his Facebook post, which has been shared more than 7,000 times. But it looks as if he was right.

Not only did Wolf exclude FlagZone, a manufacturer in Gilbertsville, from his original list of life-sustaining businesses permitted to operate during the pandemic. His administration last week also rejected the company’s application for a waiver.

FlagZone is the only American flag manufacturer in Pennsylvania and one of only a half-dozen across the country. The company typically distributes more than six million small stick flags annually.

Casey Smith, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development, told the Reading Eagle that the Wolf administration’s top priority is protecting the health and well-being of Pennsylvanians, and that flag-making, while patriotic, simply isn’t “life-sustaining.”

“Memorial Day celebrations and ceremonies are a staple in our nation, and many Pennsylvanians will need to adjust their routine this year to accommodate our new normal,” Smith said. “We encourage all Pennsylvanians to honor our nation’s fallen in their own special way.”

It turns out the flags had already been manufactured and were sitting in a warehouse.

Fact-checking Trump’s claim that Gov. Tom Wolf is keeping parts of Pa. closed that are ‘barely affected’ by coronavirusFlagZone president Daniel Ziegler said it would take only a few workers to ship 400,000 flags that had been ordered by 24 Pennsylvania counties in anticipation of Monday’s federal holiday. Bucks, Chester, and Delaware Counties were among those waiting to receive their orders.

When State Sen. Scott Hutchinson learned about FlagZone’s woes, he also called on Wolf to ease restrictions imposed on the company.

“I see no reason why the time-honored and solemn tradition of placing flags at veterans’ graves could not be continued this year,” Hutchinson, a Republican who represents Butler and other Western Pennsylvania counties, said in a statement. “Certainly placing the flags in cemeteries could be done while practicing the social distancing Gov. Wolf recommends.”

On Monday, FlagZone got some good news.

The state cleared the way for the company to ship some flag orders, even as it held firm that flag manufacturing is not essential during the pandemic.

“We’re just excited to get these flags out after months of being shut down,” Ziegler told the Reading Eagle. “Hopefully, when a family goes to the grave site of a loved one who was a veteran they will now see that they were not forgotten.”

Smith, of the Community & Economic Development Department, said in an interview that special approval from the state is not required for limited shipping activities and communicated that to FlagZone.

The following information appears to come from Politifact.

Our ruling

Roae posted on Facebook that Wolf had blocked companies that distribute American flags from shipping orders ahead of Memorial Day. Wolf initially blocked FlagZone from operating during the pandemic and then rejected the company’s request for a waiver. A state official later said the company did not need special permission to ship limited numbers of flags. However, the company didn’t understand this until the state said so, especially since the clarification came days after the Wolf administration rejected FlagZone’s application to resume operations. We rate Roae’s statement Mostly True.

Our sources

State of Pennsylvania, “All non-life-sustaining businesses in Pennsylvania to close physical locations as of 8 pm today to slow spread of COVID-19,” March 19, 2020

The Reading Eagle, “Gilbertsville flag maker gets turned down to sell product for Memorial Day,” May 12, 2020

The Reading Eagle, “In reversal, Gilbertsville company granted waiver from Pennsylvania to distribute flags for Memorial Day,” May 18, 2020

Email interview with Casey Smith, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development, May 18, 2020

Phone interview with FlagZone president Daniel Ziegler, May 19, 2020

PolitiFact is a nonpartisan, fact-checking website operated by the nonprofit Poynter Institute for Media Studies.


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