Sometimes, when members of a community don’t see eye to eye, the division only gets worse. But in the case of American Flags For Gilbert and the American Legion Post #39, I’m truly hopeful that doesn’t happen.
After all, we are bound together by our mutual love and respect for our country and our American flag. We are bound by our deep reverence and regard for those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we may enjoy our freedoms.
On October 6, American Flags For Gilbert (AFFG) came to the Council for approval of its contract to add American flags to selected street light posts in Gilbert. They had just completed a Council-approved 6-month pilot program in which they had tested the durability of six flags placed beneath street lights along a residential street in Broadland Ranches.
The group’s leader, Lee Simonich, had been inspired by seeing patriotic displays of the flags in rural towns and ranches while vising Montana last August 2010. She couldn’t get the vision out of her head or her heart, and decided to contact Mayor John Lewis with the idea of instituting a flag program in Gilbert.
Mayor Lewis, who founded Constitution Week USA over nine years ago, was very pleased and encouraged Lee to bring the idea to the Council for approval of the pilot program. And so, in March, she did. She emphasized that AFFG would not seek nor did they want any tax dollars. Rather, AFFG would handle its own fund-raising.
She and her core group had researched and would follow proper flag protocol for flying the flags 24/7, ensuring that streetlights would provide illumination during hours of darkness, and they would use proper materials for inclement weather. They would place the flags in groupings in such a way to provide the most dynamic patriotic effect.
Lee sought HOA approval from Broadland Ranches and, with the Town’s assistance, placed 6 flags along the street where she and her core group lived, so they could keep watch over them. The immediate reaction from her neighbors was deep appreciation. Lee did this at no cost to the Town, even reimbursing the Town for staff costs, as she promised.
But then, on the evening of October 6, several members of Gilbert’s American Legion Post #39 attended the Council meeting, and two members expressed opposition.
They stated the concern that the 24/7 display of the flag would not create more patriotism, but less. There was the issue of proper flag protocol. They were concerned that the group would not give the flag proper respect or care. They stated that they, as veterans, had served in the foxholes, fields, fields, deserts, jungles, and streets of all the corners of the world in defense of the ideals that are symbolized by our flag.
“We have served our country with quiet dignity,” said executive board member Marci Norton, “and we wish to have the opportunity to continue to honor our flag with quiet dignity.”
The Council members had no idea that flying the flag 24/7, especially for the purpose of paying tribute and honor to our military heroes, would be seen by the members of Post #39 as disrespectful.
It was a point of view that all of us heard for the first time that night. And so the Council, acknowledgng that sensitivity, decided to take up the discussion again the following month, encouraging both groups to attempt to reach a consensus.
That consensus did not occur. AFFG compromised by scaling back its original 100 flags to 32, 16 down American Heroes Way, plus a total of 16 in Broadland Ranches. The Legion offered to put the flags up and take them down along American Heroes Way, for special occasions only. But AFFG was adamant in wanting the flags to fly 24/7.
On November 3, 2011, the contract was up for a vote of the Council. Seven Gilbert residents spoke in support of one side or the other. David Gray, the Americanism Chairman from Post #39, spoke about his concern that the group might not demonstrate proper respect, or follow proper protocol. Jerry McBee, a veteran who had been wounded many times in action, expressed similar concerns. He went on to say that flying the flag 24/7 would cheapen it.
Michelle Anderson, who lives on the street where the flags are flying,read emails from her neighbors. They expressed their gratitude, love, and greater sense of patiotism. They asked for more flags, all the way down the street. They wrote about how the flags serve as a reminder of their pride in their country, and they look forward to turning down the street to see them flying.
Lee Simonich spoke of the wave of emotion she felt when she saw the flags flying in Montana. She said that seeing them fly majestically in the glow of the streetlights along American Heroes Way, and leading up to the 9/11 Memorial, will give honor to our military and our civilian heroes.
Each Council Member spoke of their own feelings of patiotic love for the flag, and their personal experiences and the experiences of close family in the military. The Council voted 6-0 to approve the contract with AFFG (Sentz abstained citing a conflict of interest since he is a member of the Legion).
We all love our flag. Because of the statements made by members of American Legion Post #39, we have learned much more about their deep respect and reverence for our flag, and it creates in us a deeper understanding.
Our republic is in distress, and I can imagine there will be some evenings when I will go out of my way to see those flags flying majestically in the glow of the street lamps.
“And the rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.”
May our flag fly proudly. May we see it as a shining symbol of freedom. May we never take our freedom for granted.
Go to www.flagsforgilbert.org for information about American Flags for Gilbert and how you can support them.