Harl recalls placing over 900 flags annually for Day of Remembrance

May 27, 2024 | 12:10 am

Updated May 27, 2024 | 9:40 am

When Allan Harl was in his prime, he could locate every person buried at the Owensboro Memorial Gardens by just saying their name. For two days each Memorial Day week, he would place roughly 900 United States flags throughout the Garden on his own, not just because he was President of the Gardens but because he cared that much about the deceased.

He said that when he began as the cemetery owner in 1968, his predecessor passed suddenly, and he was thrown overnight into cemetery training.

“I was running our funeral home in Whitesville, and I had to come to town to learn the cemetery business since she couldn’t come back to show me the records,” Harl said. “I had to start entirely from scratch. I also learned that I liked the business.”

Starting from scratch meant he learned each placement on the grounds. While he doesn’t remember the total number of people buried back then, he said it was still a steadily growing cemetery.

When he was 32, the Gardens had yet to hold the first Day of Remembrance, which began in 1998. But over the years, he would still walk the grounds daily to ensure each placement, marker, and adornment was appropriately cared for.

“I used to walk the cemetery constantly and ensure that if there was a problem, we took care of it,” he said. “If I saw vases bent or crooked or anything like that, I would go back and repair it myself.”

When the first celebration started in the late 1990s, Harl spent all his time walking the grounds and getting acquainted with the burials, proving that he knew the grounds better than the back of his hand.

“I almost knew where everybody was in the cemetery,” Harl recalled. “I never had to go get a map to find anyone; I could always go to it.”

For several years, he was the only one who would take the full two days to place each flag on the sites. While most had markers, he said several didn’t, and he still knew where each flag was meant to be.

Now, the Gardens leans on several volunteers to place over 1,825 flags, each recognizing a veteran.

He also noted that he was, and still is, even as a volunteer, picky about how they sit in the Gardens. Often, they’d break while being put in or not fly properly, so he’d check to be sure.

Harl officially retired from the position after 51 years of managing the grounds. He didn’t help plant the flags during his first few years of retirement but has since returned.

The current manager of the Gardens, Lou Ann Bowersox, said they call Harl the rock of the Gardens and the resident genius on everything.

Saturday marked the 26th annual Day of Remembrance at the Memorial Gardens, with several hundred visitors in attendance to honor the fallen Veterans. 

Harl doesn’t move quite as fast as he once did, and he’s thankful for the 25 volunteers who now assist with the process. He also uses a list these days, and he’s perfectly content following others and is responsible for only one section.

May 27, 2024 | 12:10 am

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