Barring dispensation, a grief-stricken family could watch Tuesday morning as cemetery workers take down the elaborate graveside display memorializing a fallen U.S. Army corporal.
Albert Bitton -- known as "Doc" to those who knew him -- was just 20 years old when he was killed in Iraq in February of 2008. An aspiring doctor, Bitton had enlisted in the Army to participate in their medic training program.
Grief-stricken by his son's death, Elie Bitton purchased four adjoining plots in Skokie's Memorial Park Cemetery and had a black granite monument installed. Flanking the granite headstone are two 10-foot high flagpoles. Hoisted on one is a full-size American flag. A POW/MIA flag flies on the other.
Elie Bitton says he was recently made aware that the cemetery has a prohibition on flagpoles taller than four feet. And a new manager for the cemetery is enforcing the rule.
"I said, 'What is the reason you want to take the flags down?' Eli Bitton recalled of his conversation with cemetery manager Ron Graeff. "'Oh, it doesn't look good and it's not in a decanter,'" he said he was told.
Graeff refused to comment Monday specifically about the Bitton's case, but said the burial ground has the right to regulate the size, design and qualities of memorials placed at the cemetery.
A letter provided by Elie Bitton, purportedly from Memorial Park Cemetery, reads:
- "The Cemetery hereby reserves the right, at any time or times, with or without notice to Owners, to adopt new Rules and Regulations, or to amend, alter and/or repeal same at any time. A copy of the Rules and Regulations, and any amendments thereto, shall be made available for inspection upon request at the Cemetery office."
Graeff said that when situations like this arise, the cemetery will meet with families to try to work out the problem. In the end, however, the cemetery will take "corrective measures" if a family doesn't oblige by the ground's regulations.
Bitton said his family has no plans on making any modifications. In fact, Bitton said he feels that he would have no choice but to move his son's casket to another cemetery.
"Don't let them take the flags down," Eli Bitton said Monday. "If you take the flag down, it's like you put a bullet to my head."