'Somebody needs to teach their children what Memorial Day means'

CENTRALIA, Wash. -- Police are looking for vandals who trashed dozens of American flags that were placed by a veterans group at a Centralia cemetery for Memorial Day Weekend.

Police say 30 of the 60 small flags were ripped off their sticks, and in many instances torn.

"It hurts in the heart," said Army veteran Thomas Kirkpatrick.

Local veterans are taking the news hard.

"It's kind of a sacred day with us," said Keith Hagen, a veteran of the Korean War. "And to have them tear up the flags -- what do we do, have to put a guard on the cemetery?"

Police say the vandals struck sometime over the three-day holiday and wasn't noticed until the American Legion came to pick up the flags.

Centralia police Sgt. Kurt Reichert suspects it's the work of young children or teens.

"Somebody needs to teach their children what the holiday means," Reichert said.

Local veterans have just the sentence: Bring them to the veterans museum, and let them listen to war stories from the Korean and Vietnam wars.

"The North Koreans had that big Russian T-34 tanks and they kind of run us out of there," Hagen said.

Kirkpatrick served in Vietnam.

"We were on defense at the Bien Hoa Air Base -- Hulk Hill what they called it," he said. "And they just came and came and came and came."

Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Jack Williams was a helicopter crew member in Vietnam who was shot down five times and showed off one of his helmets that had a bullet hole that came through the top and out the side.

Every veteran and every display has a story of why the American flag is so important.

"They need to bring their families down here and teach them a lesson," Williams said. "They say, 'Well, the flag hasn't given me anything.' I said, 'the flag represents this country, so it's given you everything.' "

The lesson they hope is learned? The next holiday, the flags should stay where they are and be saluted not desecrated.

Police say in these kinds of cases, if indeed it's children responsible, they often want to tell friends about what they did and that word is bound to get back to the police.