Turn the lazy bend south along U.S. 14 to enter this Richland County seat, and the first thing that catches your eye is the sun dancing off of rows of silver mixed with royal blue, jutting out just-so from the distant prairie on your left.
Gradually, a sea of red and white stripes emerges in your vision.
Soon, the only sound you hear is that of the wind furiously snapping hundreds of flags against their towering flagpoles. The chorus drowns out the brisk traffic whipping past you on the left.
It is eerie, it is sobering, and it is beautiful.
It is the work of volunteers at the American Legion, where all 316 flags stand in steadfast honor to all veterans, living and deceased, who served in the U.S. military from this modest town, known mostly for being the childhood home of fabled architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
At the base of each flagpole is a flat stone marker inscribed with a veteran’s name, dates of service and medals won.
The breathtaking park is funded solely by individual donations and the proceeds of fundraising events held at the Legion hall.
Outside the Legion hall, a sign beckons members and non-members to come in for lunch. Inside, Pat Kraska sits at the bar, sipping on a tall ice-cold Pepsi, waiting for his meal. He is a second-generation American — his parents emigrated from Bohemia — and a second-generation veteran; his father served in World War II, and he served in the Marines during Vietnam.
“There is a flag out there honoring both my father and myself,” he said. “It’s pretty humbling, and it’s an honor. It reminds you that when you serve your country, you are part of something bigger than yourself.
“That is a feeling that is hard to describe. Yes, it is both inspiring and gratifying, but I wish I had a better phrase or word for the sentiment.”
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