Most people navigating about Columbus on Friday were probably unsure of why hundreds of flags were dancing in the breeze.
In reality, they originally were never intended to be flapping on Sept. 20. But with the Columbus Sertoma Club needing a make-up flag day after rain over Memorial Day hampered its original plans, national POW/MIA Recognition Day seemed like a great time to let Old Glory fly.
Mother Nature acting up was actually a good thing, the club’s Co-Flag Chair Tom Zimmerman said, as now members are seriously contemplating doing it again.
“This is a make-up date, but now we are thinking about – event considering – making this a permanent date,” Zimmerman said.
POW/MIA Recognition Day is commemorated on the third Friday of every September, a date that’s not associated with any particular war, according to information provided by pow-miafamilies.org. In 1979, Congress and President Jimmy Carter passed resolutions making it official after the families of more than 2,500 Vietnam War POW/MIAs pushed for full accountability.
According to a Congressional Research Service report on POWs, 130,201 World War II service members were imprisoned, as were 7,140 during the Korean War and 725 during the Vietnam War. In addition, 37 service members were imprisoned during conflicts since 1991, including both Gulf Wars, provided information shows.
Statistics from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency shows that 83,114 Americans who fought in these wars are still missing in action.
“From a patriotism standpoint, I mean, you look at people missing in action or being prisoners of war, it’s pretty self-explanatory in a lot of ways,” Co-Flag Chair Bill Guthmiller said of the significance of the day.
About 6:30 a.m. Friday, Zimmerman, Guthmiller and several other Sertoma Club members broke into groups and covered 11 flag routes around town. With strength in numbers, the 500 flags are normally placed in about 40 minutes to an hour. Flags are placed along main thoroughfares, downtown and in front of numerous businesses.
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Business owners, Zimmerman said, pay $45 yearly for one flag to fly in front of their establishment. Many fly as many as eight-10 flags. It’s a patriotic gesture and also serves as the club’s biggest source of funding that helps it fulfill its mission of improving the quality of life for those at risk or impacted by hearing loss through education and support.
Two projects completed by the club consisted of installing looping systems at the gathering room inside of the Columbus Wellness Center and also inside the Columbus Community Center.
“The looping system is a technology that is wired into the floor, it’s connected to your hearing aids, and as long as you have a t-coil in your hearing aid it helps you hear a lot better,” Zimmerman said.
Other funds collected through the years have gone toward providing playground equipment to local parks and also providing iPads to Wiggles and Giggles Therapy for Kids to be used by children working to improve their hearing and speaking abilities.
Although fundraising is certainly important, the real gratification for the two co-chairs comes from hearing people’s responses and seeing the sense of patriotism these days evoke. Oftentimes, big business players in town like getting involved with the flag days so that the main 23rd Street thoroughfare is littered with red, white and blue.
“Sometimes they say, ‘would you mind rolling out your flags for downtown and the highway?’” Zimmerman said. ‘Just because we’ve got some folks coming into down, some dignitaries, some potential engineers,’ – that kind of thing,” he said. “And we just want the opportunity to show them what this town is all about. That it’s very patriotic, family-oriented, just gung-ho about this community.”
Added Guthmiller: “And that we are gung-ho about this country.”
Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.