Row of Flags Line East Osage

This past Friday, the day before a procession was to carry the remains of a fallen soldier home to Pacific, a breeze captured the row of flags along the procession route from the city limits to Bell Funeral Home. Volunteers placed a thousand flags for the procession. On the next day, for the actual cortege, pelting rain would cause mourners to huddle under umbrellas and the drenched flags would hug the poles.  From left are Tammy Hayden, Geoffrey Hayden and Susan Beffa.

When Larry “The Flagman” Eckhardt heard that a young man from Pacific had been killed in Afghanistan he said he wanted to bring 2,100 flags to line the route when the remains were returned to Pacific.

Army Spc. Jeffrey White Jr. was killed April 3 when an IED exploded near his vehicle in Afghanistan. The son of Paula and Jeffrey White Sr. of Catawissa, White’s remains were to be returned to Pacific April 14 in a motorcade escorted by city, county and state police officers and members of a motorcycle group.

Immediately after saying that he would bring flags to Pacific, Eckhardt learned that a soldier from Licking, Mo., had been killed and would be returned home on the same day. He might have had to make a choice between the two — he could not be in two places at once — but when former alderman Carol Johnson’s name came up as someone who could arrange to get a thousand flags up in Pacific, Eckhardt decided to provide flags for both events.

Johnson quickly got the word out that help was needed to place the flags on Friday, April 13. She asked Joe Bosse and Phil Zahn for permission to use their Route 66 Business Park as a staging area for the project. Amid balmy weather and a soft breeze, more than 100 volunteers arrived to help.

“I also asked Graphic Packaging to provide gloves for the volunteers,” Johnson said. The firm donated two boxes of gloves. “It might be more hand labor than some volunteers were used to. We didn’t want them to tear their hands up.”

Volunteers with pickups loaded flags onto their trucks and drove to designated sites along the route where other volunteers dug holes and erected the flags.

“The whole operation took about three hours,” Johnson said.

Among the volunteers was a baseball team with a connection to the family of the fallen soldier, the Black Sox, a Pacific Youth Association 12U team.

“Timmy White, Jeffrey’s cousin, plays on our team,” Jamie Hayden said.

Even though the ground was soft from recent rain, punching a thousand 9-inch holes was something of a project. With tools provided by Eckhardt, men were assigned to most of the volunteer groups to punch the holes, 18 inches apart, and volunteers carried the 10-foot flag poles to the hole, unfurled the flag and set it in the holes.

In especially hard dirt or gravel, a straight punch with a splayed head pounded by a sledgehammer, was needed to do the job.

On Sunday, the day following the procession, the flags were lifted, furled neatly and placed in Eckhardt’s truck for the next city that has a military funeral.

For more information about Larry “The Flagman,” visit his Facebook page.