Community members and veterans joined Friday afternoon at the Washington County/Johnson City Veterans Memorial to replace the American and MIA/POW flags, which were stolen from the grounds a day earlier.
“They came together because they care,” said Bob Rambo, chairman of the Rolling Thunder Chapter 4’s board of directors that provided another POW/MIA flag. “Many have family members that may have their names engraved on this stone. I know this happened a day ago, and it’s already fixed. But that’s the way it should be.”
As word began to spread about the vandalized flags, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe’s office, Rolling Thunder Chapter 4, American Legion Post 24 and Disabled American Veterans Chapter 9 were among the organizations that reached out to the memorial’s Executive Committee offering a replacement at no cost.
All those organizations had representatives present at Friday’s brief ceremony.
“Our chairman, the City of Johnson City and Phil Roe’s office have got a lot of feedback on (the flags), and it’s all been positive,” said historian Allen Jackson, a member of the memorial’s executive committee.
“Everyone actually came together today from a lot of the military organizations in the county. Some just showed up from the roadway and said, ‘What’s going on?’ and stayed while the flags went up.”
Bill Darden, field representative for Roe, said his office would be reimbursing both Rolling Thunder and Jackson for the flags.
When Jackson contacted Georgia flag company, America’s Best Flag, to purchase another flag, he received an email back offering a complimentary flag.
But despite all the encouragement, Rambo was still disgusted someone would even commit stealing the flags.
“I can tell you my first reaction and my reaction now is I’m madder than he**. I don’t like it, I don’t like it a bit,” Rambo said.
“Understand this is sacred ground to us. The names on these granite stones, these are American heroes. These are veterans. They fought for this country. Some died for this country. It’s beyond my comprehension how any person or group of people could come in and steal an American and POW/MIA flag.”
At approximately 8 a.m. on Thursday, a parks and recreation employee noticed the flags were missing and notified Johnson City police.
At the base of the flagpole, someone had pried open a latch to access the cable pulley and lowered the flags.
Jackson estimated the damage cost approximately $250, which included replacing the flags and the labor involved in replacing the lock.
The flags that rise above the red and black granite stones are normally replaced every Memorial Day and Veterans Day, Jackson said.
Dedicated on Nov. 11, 2011, the memorial holds the names of more than 2,000 Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy veterans.
Architect and veteran Frank Knisley had designed the circular memorial to “create a feeling of a ‘Band of Brothers and Sisters,’ where everyone was equal regardless of rank,” according to a bulletin board at the memorial’s entrance.
The red granite is designed to honor those killed in action, prisoners of war or missing in action. The black granite signifies those who returned home after serving.
Since the theft, Jackson said, a small camera has been installed to monitor activity inside the park.
The police report said there were no known suspects.
Email Zach Vance at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Zach Vance on Twitter at @ZachVanceJCP. Like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/ZachVanceJCP.