Macomb recognizes veterans with Flags of Love

Bill Welt

Seven hundred eighty-six American flags were positioned around Chandler Park on Memorial Day in downtown Macomb.

The flags stood tall in honor of the deceased veterans of McDonough County.

Dozens of volunteers woke up early for the event known as the Flags of Love. Volunteers hoisted the colors at 6 a.m. and left them standing until 6 p.m.

Each flag recognized a deceased McDonough County veteran.

Event chairperson Jay Carter, a Macomb resident, engraved most of the veterans’ names on the flagpoles. Carter requires a $40 donation to make a commemoration of a veteran possible.

Carter said the project started in 1977 and has been a participant since the 1980s. He was careful to note the help he has received from various Macomb organizations such as the Kiwanis Club, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.

“Without the help of the Macomb city and the service clubs and many volunteers, this project would not get off the ground,” he said.

Volunteers did not just help raise the flags on Monday, either. Deceased veterans of the past year were given a special ceremony. Their names were read aloud at 10:30 a.m. at the Memorial Wall, located at the south end of Chandler Park.

Four of those read were veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, as each had a flag representing them.

“Colonel Jon Stein, killed during a helicopter medical mission in Afghanistan, is one of the best-known local soldiers represented by a flag,” said Pat Stout, president of the Macomb Kiwanis Club. “There are also flags for Civil War veterans like William Hainline, editor of the Macomb Journal, and for veterans like the late McDonough County Sheriff John Bliven.”

Stout added it has been rewarding for his club to help recognize those veterans.

“It is very rewarding to be in a service group like Kiwanis,” Stout said. “There are always things to be done in the community. People who think they don’t have time to get involved would be surprised to find out how easy it can be.”

Flags of Love is not a one-time event, as it occurs on four other holidays: Flag Day, Independence Day, Labor Day and Veterans Day.

When the flags are not being used for the quinquennial event, they are kept in a storage facility in Macomb.

There has been an increase of 14 flags this past year. However, Carter expressed concern that there is no more room left on Chandler Park to add more flags.

“My biggest fear is where will we put all the new flags as we have reached the space limits,” he said.

Nonetheless, Carter said he was glad to have the area’s veterans represented by the display and hopes that Western Illinois University students will express their gratitude to veterans as well.

“We are happy that so many veterans chose WIU as their college and hope that everyone has a chance to thank them for their service.”