Thanks to the Squires Men’s Group, the worn American flag flying outside the Elmwood Community Center in West Hartford was replaced with a new, larger flag in a heartfelt ceremony Friday.
By Gillian Hixson
Looking up at the new flag flying in the light breeze and out into the crowd of veterans, Kathleen Faroni, the director of the Elmwood Senior Center, became emotional.
“It is moments like these where we are reminded of the goodness of life, the world, and humankind,” said Faroni.
On Friday May 19, the American flag outside the Elmwood Community Center was removed in a dignified ceremony and replaced with a new, larger flag. The Squires Men’s Group, a local social club for retired men, gave the flag to the center. Several members of the group are veterans themselves.
The Squires noticed the worn flag and took it upon themselves to raise the money to purchase a new flag and have this event, explained Faroni. “There is a lot of emotion, and it is all beautiful and purely from the heart,” she added.
Though the actual ceremony was quite traditional, the Squires included several unique and personal touches.
Squires member Al Fletcher explained the symbolism of the red, white, blue, and the 50 stars on the flag. “From diversity comes strength,” Fletcher stated in regards to the number of stars.
As the flag was lowered, Squires member Phil Pearson played beautiful, patriotic classics, such as “The Star Spangled Banner,” “God Bless America,” and “America the Beautiful,” on a keyboard. Many in the crowd joined in song.
The old flag was then folded thirteen times, while Fran King, Squires member and World War II veteran, explained the meaning behind each fold.
“Many consider thirteen unlucky, but I consider thirteen my lucky number. My 13th mission was on Friday the 13th, and my plane was housed in chute 13,” King added.
Faroni took hold of the folded flag and instantly was overcome with emotion. “It is really an honor,” Faroni later said.
In the past, the center has done a flag planting ceremony around Memorial Day to honor and remember those who have served our country, Faroni explained. Individuals would designate a flag to a loved one and then plant the flags around the outside of the center.
However, this year’s Memorial Day event embodies a more personal and present feeling, Liz Forrest, the center’s marketing specialist, said.
The center has also recently hosted “Veteran’s Social Hour” events to encourage fellow veterans in the community to network and reminisce, Faroni said. These events are both informational and exciting, Faroni continued, for they allow veterans to learn more about benefits as well as to learn of similar experiences or backgrounds.
Following the flag raising ceremony, this writer got a taste of one of these networking events, sitting and chatting with veterans and members of the Squires.
Ben Cooper, a medic during World War II, saved countless prisoners in Dachau Concentration Camp.
Bob Reynolds, a Squires member since 1990 and a West Hartford native, was in the navy for World War II. Only two weeks after graduating high school, Reynolds found himself in boot camp and then spent 18 months in the Pacific.
Leader and 17-year member of The Squires, Ken Hungerford, fought in the Korean War in 1951, though he claimed he “can’t complain” and “was very fortunate.”
Hungerford spent most of our conversation explaining a story of his brother, who became a prisoner of war in the Philippines in 1942 but was saved thanks to a Philippine cook who got wind of the enemy’s plan and sent for an American rescue crew.
Much like the emotion and dignity displayed at this event, Hungerford explained that when he was at war, the rangers would lift the American flag and all of the soldiers would fall down on their knees and sing the “Star Spangled Banner.”
This exchange of American flags was “the right thing to do,” as Faroni put it. The new, beautiful flag flying outside the Elmwood Community Center certainly does veterans justice.