WILKES-BARRE — Even at 87, World War II veteran Sam Greenberg said hearing “Taps” still moves him.
“I still get a lump in my throat,” he said. “A tear in my eye.”
Greenberg served as a combat medic at Guadalcanal in South Pacific, and was just one of the local veterans at Miner Park Saturday during a Flag Day event hosted by the District A Committee. Veterans and members of the committee handed out 300 new American flags free of charge, while collecting old, tattered flags to be retired according to protocol.
The Kingston veteran and Past National Commander of the Jewish War Veterans described the pre-triage days of emergency medicine (“we had 90 seconds to diagnose,” he said) and swapped stories of wartime hi-jinks with Arthur Stahl, a veteran of a different Asian conflict.
“We definitely look at the flag differently than anyone else,” said Stahl, past national commander of AMVETS.
For veterans, he said, the flag is a source of great pride and a symbol that their nation supports them.
Stahl, of Wilkes-Barre, oversaw the inspection and disposal of the flags, ensuring the process was handled up to the standards of the U.S. Flag Code.
First, he said, all flags are inspected to ensure they’re in need of disposal.
“It can still be looking good and not be serviceable,” Stahl said.
He said inspectors generally look for signs of wear and tattering before the flags are disposed of in a ceremonial burning. A bugler played “Taps” during Saturday’s disposal. A group of Boy Scouts were on hand to assist, and members of the Wilkes-Barre Fire Department stood-by just in case.
Greenberg and Stahl said they appreciated the event’s turnout but feel the area’s patriotism levels are at a low. They said veterans organizations lately have trouble finding help for activities like decorating graves of fallen veterans.
Wilkes-Barre American flag advocate and World War II veteran Jim Walsh spoke in agreement.
Walsh has long been critical of the low number of flags in the city, and frequently appears at City Council meetings asking to see more flags flown in center city.
He called the city’s handling of his requests “shameful,” and said he’s troubled by the government’s foot-dragging on the matter.
“It disturbs me that the respect isn’t coming forth from a lot of people,” he said.
Walsh, who participated in the Battle of the Bulge during WWII in Europe in 1944, helped distribute flags Saturday.
George Brown, city councilman and chairman of the District A Committee, said he was quite pleased with the event’s turnout, and a little worried they would run out of flags. Hopefully, he said, the committee will be able to make the Flag Day event an annual one.
“I’d love to give away a thousand flags next year,” Brown said.
The committee formed in 2007 in order to, according to the chairman, “do things that the city of Wilkes-Barre cannot do.”
He asks that anyone in Wilkes-Barre’s District A with ideas for the committee’s future projects submit their suggestions through the group’s website, www.wbdistrictafund.org.