Just One Flag

On my weekly visit to Tucson for my job, one day I decided to avoid the rush of I-10 and took the scenic route 87 by way of Coolidge. As I was driving along, I came upon an old cemetery. It looked old, neglected and sparsely dotted with only a handful of graves. One grave in particular caught my eye, close to the highway. There it stood with a headstone and a flagpole with 2 beat up flags hanging. One was a USMC flag, and just above it, a tattered Old Glory, flapping unceremoniously in the wind. They looked as if they’d been flying for a long time. I was more concerned about the condition of Old Glory. It was old, ripped and coming apart at the stripes, quite unbecoming for our Nation’s symbol of freedom. As I continued to watch it, a feeling of frustration overcame me. I thought to myself, “How could anyone let the flag go like that? It’s a symbol of our freedom and a tribute to the veteran who’s resting eternally beneath it. He would have known firsthand what that flag meant to him.” I continued to ponder it, and I remembered we had a ride the following weekend down along this very same route. What a coincidence! It was likely that if that flag had gone this long without anyone showing interest, a few more days probably wouldn’t change things. The wheels in my head started spinning, and my plan starting taking shape. I called Terry, our chapter Treasurer and shared my idea with her. Her job was to purchase a new flag. She was as enthusiastic as I was. This was going to be our little secret, and we wouldn’t share it with anyone else. A few days later, at our chapter meeting, we discussed the route of the ride scheduled for that day. I had mentioned that I had a surprise in store for everyone on the ride. I know what they were thinking. (Dairy Queen!) I let them wonder but I had already mentally picked out a handful of people (who didn’t know yet) to help me carry out my ‘secret’ plan. They were only told they were specifically selected to help with my surprise. The ‘chosen’ were comprised of a Vietnam Vet, a former marine, and a boy scout. How much more Patriotic can you get?

We proceeded on our ride, and I was smiling to myself knowing that my fellow riders had no idea what I was up to. No one asked any questions, but I’m sure their minds were racing. (I hope it took their minds off the scorching heat of the hot Arizona summer sun.) We rode down the same desert road I had been down a few days earlier, with nothing much to see but cactus and dirt and an occasional road critter. As the tattered flag came into my view, my smile got bigger. I signal the turn into the cemetery, still reveling in the thought that no one had guessed what my plan was. As we parked our bikes, I can see the look of confusion on their faces because I’m pretty sure everyone thought I’d lost my mind and suffered heat stroke. They all get off their bikes and gathered around, finally asking questions. My secret is out as I share my story and fill them all in with what I had in mind.

Terry pulled out the flag, and as if everyone already knew what to do, Sarge (the Vietnam Vet) & Puff (former Marine) started by taking down the torn flag and handing it over to Trevor, our Boy Scout, and Candyman, our Vice President. Trevor and Candyman proceeded to fold the flag (Candyman wasn’t just the figurehead today). The others attached the new flag to the clips and raised the Stars & Stripes. The rest of the group watched in pride and honor as the new flag started flapping proudly in the breeze. The others tidied up the Soldier’s grave and made it presentable again. There were few words, but then we didn’t need any. This was a prideful moment and it spoke for itself.

It was time to go to our final destination and as everyone got on their bikes, they took one last look to admire their handiwork. I’m sure that the soldier who rests beneath that flag smiled on us. We understood and demonstrated patriotism that day and made him proud.

Thanks to all who were there to participate in this day.

Gene Galan (Outhouse) • President, Star Chapter 393 • Chandler, Arizona