Avenue of Flags had a healthy start for Legion Post

A West Liberty tradition - History column


West Liberty’s Mansell L. Phillips American Legion Post #509 announced in October 1988 the formation of an Avenue of Flags Trust, starting a new honored tradition for the community and a tribute to local veterans who had died.

The flags would be located in the Oak Ridge Cemetery. A veteran would not need to have been buried in that cemetery to be eligible for a flag, Legion Commander Brian McIntire said at the time.

The qualifying dates of service back in 1988 were World War l (April 6, 1917-November 11, 1918), World War ll (December 7, 1941-December 31, 1946), Korean War (June 25, 1950-January 31, 1955), and Vietnam War (December 12, 1961-May 7, 1975).

The first flag was to be provided by the deceased vet’s family, and it could be the casket flag or one of equivalent size. If a flag was not available or in unsatisfactory condition, the Legion provided, at their cost, a casket-sized flag.

Originally an investment of $125 into the trust was required. That amount could be provided by relatives, friends or even an organization, an investment that provided a flag pole and perpetual care of the pole and flag.

It’s noted a living vet could invest in the trust, and then at the time of his death, his family would contribute his casket flag to be flown.

In 1988, Ken Morrison, John Nath Sr. and Jack McIntosh served on the Avenue of Flags committee as the trust officers.

McIntire said they had a really good response the first year. “It was more than anyone figured,” he added.

By May 1989, 57 flags were ready to fly! The actual work had begun earlier in the month with the laying of the foundations for the flag poles. A group of Legion members and community volunteers, including John Nath Sr., Les Henderson, Larry Brennan, Zach Weaver, Sam Morrison, Brian McIntire, Bob Lehman, Tom Christensen, Verland Olsen, Gib Parizek, Barney Maurer, John Nath Jr., Rich Janney, Steve Shaw, Rick Maurer and Amos Morrison, helped attach the tags with vet names and their call of duty on each pole, and put the flags on the poles. They raised the flags on the Friday before Memorial Day.

“This is a memorial to our fallen servicemen,” McIntire said. "It means a lot to a lot of people. A lot of loved ones are really enthused about it.”

Tom Walljasper, formerly of the Index, remarked in 1989 after seeing the flags for the first time, “When the wind starts to blow, the flags all flap, and a sense of pride and patriotism just fills the air.”

About 100 people were present to see the first Avenue of Flags at the cemetery service in 1989. The speaker was Rev. Joe Lee of Cedar Valley/Nichols United Methodist Church.

Lee spoke of “a special breed of American citizen—the soldier, the sailor, the airman, the marine—and all those who have served the call of military duty, and never returned.”

“Remember the VETS, so no one forgets,” Lee said, referencing the Legion slogan.

A moment of silence was observed following his speech, then a 21-gun salute. The West Liberty High School band played patriotic songs, ending with “Taps.”

Today the Avenue of Flags is in its 32nd year. This Memorial Day, May 31, a total of 314 flags were raised, with the annual honor roll of vets’ names for whom a flag is flown read at the cemetery service.

Sons of the American Legion member Jeff Owen has read that list now for 20 years.

Anyone interested in participating in the Avenue of Flags should contact Legion Commander Ken Riley for an application, and to discuss the updated fee schedule. Riley can be reached at 563-272-1245.