Stolen military gravesite flag holders returned in honorable fashion

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- From January to March, police say two men, 42-year-old Adam Dale Binkley and 24-year-old Austin Scott Binkley, stole from 480 graves at three separate Forsyth County cemeteries. They mostly took bronze flower vases, but also took two flag holders which clearly commemorated military service.

“Quite literally stealing from the dead and from the families of the dead,” said Det. Daniel J. McCarthy, of the Winston-Salem Police Department, who is also a veteran. “It hit me on multiple levels.”

The flag holders belonged to the graves of a father and son who each served in a World War. James H. Blakley served in the 81st Infantry Division -- and lost both of his legs -- during World War I, and James H. Blakley Jr. served in the 33rd Infantry Division during World War II, before then serving with the Winston-Salem Fire Department for 34 years.

“I thought, ‘Oh God, I need to run down to the graveyard just to see,’” said Gena Anderson, Blakley Jr.’s granddaughter, after hearing of the thefts before the Binkleys were arrested.

Once she arrived at Oaklawn Memorial Gardens, which is where her grandfather and great-grandfather are buried side-by-side, Anderson realized that – not only were the vases stolen from their graves – but the flag holders had been stolen as well. Blakley Sr.’s flag holder was marked “World War 1917 – 1918,” and Jr.’s reads “World War Two 1941 – 1945.”

“I didn’t even want to tell her,” Anderson said of her grandmother, Clara Blakley. “It hurt bad enough for me.”

While the majority of the property stolen is indistinguishable – and therefore likely won’t be returned – Winston-Salem police were able to make contact with the Blakley’s and determine that the flag holders belonged to them. Due to the Blakley’s service to our country and community, they decided to do something special for them.

“For them to be together, and be honored on the same day it’s, it’s awesome,” Anderson said.

Members of the U.S. Army, Winston-Salem fire and police departments, as well as Davidson and Forsyth County sheriff’s offices, were all on hand on Monday for a ceremony which included an honor guard from the Army, police and fire departments.

“I just think it’s wonderful. I have no words,” Anderson said, after the ceremony. “I’m just so happy.”

Police encourage anyone who either has or is planning to put something valuable by a grave site to engrave it in case it is stolen.