Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour dispatched a deputy to the Cold Springs Cemetery following multiple reports of more than two dozen damaged and missing flags that'd been placed on the veterans' graves prior to the Memorial Day holiday. And it took only a few minutes of surveillance before the deputy observed the secretive flag thief in action—grabbing a flag, breaking the stick with its teeth and then retreating into a hole in the ground with its Old Glory prize.
The culprit was a groundhog, evidently one with way too much time on its paws.
Cemetery groundskeeper Rodney Burdick said a total of 31 flags were damaged. Sheriff Voutour says he wouldn't have believed a groundhog was responsible if his deputy hadn't watched the flag filcher firsthand.
And this wasn't the first time we're run across stories of four-legged graveyard flag thieves.
A few years ago, the Oak Hill Cemetery in Neehah, Wisconsin, was victimized by some bushy-tailed bandits.
Jim Romnek, commander of the Neenah Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10893, told the Appleton Post-Crescent he first suspected the flags placed on veterans' graves for Memorial Day were taken by vandals. Upon further investigation, however, the haphazard pattern of the two dozen or so missing flags—plus the fact that the wooden dowel stakes remained in the ground—didn't reflect the handiwork of human pranksters.
Groundskeeper Mark Alberts came forward to solve the mystery of the disappearing stars and stripes, saying it was common for tree-cutting crews to find flag remnants inside hollow portions of the cemetery trees.
"We find a lot of flags all shredded up in there," he said. "The squirrels use them for bedding."
Remember: The summer months offer a great opportunity to get out and sharpen your rifleman skills on varmints. Here's a little something to wet your whistle.