Love of Learning: Who puts up all the flags on federal holidays in Philomath?

On the early morning of each federal holiday, a handful of dedicated volunteers meet at Philomath Fire & Rescue to pull out American flags from one of the vehicle bays and load them into the back of two pickup trucks.

This tiny group is responsible for putting the flags out around the couplet along Main Street and Applegate to help promote patriotism in our little town. They leave the flags up all day and then return in the evening to retrieve the flags, roll them up and return them back to the fire department.

Brent Kaseman and Oscar Gutbrod retrieve flags from Philomath Fire & Rescue
Brent Kaseman and Oscar Gutbrod retrieve flags from Philomath Fire & Rescue and place them in the back of a pickup to distribute around town on Memorial Day. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs)

These volunteers are members of Philomath Rotary Club whose mission is to provide service to others, promote integrity and advance world understanding, goodwill and peace through our fellowship of business, professional and community leaders. One of the original charter members of the Philomath Rotary Club is Mal Miner, who at 88 years of age, is always the first to have his truck backed into the fire station ready to load up flags.

The flag is important to Mal because “it represents the people who influenced our national history, wars, battle and sacrifice.”

Mal has a deep appreciation for American history, since he grew up on Highway 20 in Springfield, Massachusetts, not far from where the American Revolution began. He is a direct descendent of John Adams, who was our nation’s first vice president serving under George Washington and later went on to succeed Washington as our nation’s second president.

Mal shared that his grandmother’s name was Breed, who owned Breed’s Hill — the land where the Battle of Bunker Hill took place on June 17, 1775. This is where courageous colonialists defended against the advancing British Troops and the famous order was given: “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”

Mal was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1956 and became an armor officer. He was assigned as a platoon leader in an armor battalion stationed in West Germany providing deterrence and defense during the Cold War against the Russians and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The Russians had just invaded Hungary with tanks and troops to squelch a revolution in 1956 not long after Mal arrived in West Germany.

The Philomath Rotary Club’s Mal Miner places a flag on Main Street
The Philomath Rotary Club’s Mal Miner places a flag on Main Street in front of Sew It Seams, one of the businesses that helps sponsor the program. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs)

Tensions were high at that moment and Mal immediately took to ensuring his platoon of tank crews were well trained and prepared to defend West Germany against further advances of the Iron Curtain. Just as Mal’s ancestors defended Bunker Hill from advancing redcoats from the British Army, 175 years later Mal would be “buttoned up” in a tank defending West Germany from the threat of an advancing Russian Red Army.

There are 32 local people and businesses that sponsor the flag program. From True Value to Sew It Seams, from Starker Forests to City Hall, and places in between. If you are a business or resident in the area that wants to contribute to this program so Rotarians can put out more flags, you can mail in a donation to Philomath Rotary Club: P.O. Box 1195, Philomath, OR 97370. In exchange, the Philomath Rotary will put out a flag in front of your business eight times a year for each holiday. That averages out to $5 per holiday, which seems very reasonable.

One of the fun things that my kids and I do every federal holiday is jump in the car and drive around the couplet to see how many flags we can count. We start up at Starker Forests and drive down Main, around Applegate and back to Starker and count not only the flags that Rotarians put out but also those at the fire department, City Hall, the police station, the library, the post office and individual residences along the way. We just took this drive on Memorial Day and we counted 50 flags total. We think this serves as a very powerful reflection about the patriotism not just of our Rotary Club but also our small town of Philomath.

Lindy Young, Philomath Rotary Club president, places a flag by the museum
Lindy Young, Philomath Rotary Club president, places a flag by the Benton County Historical Society’s Philomath Museum on Memorial Day. (Photo by Logan Hannigan-Downs)

I mentioned the flags to Holly and Brierre Marshall at our Timber Towne Coffee shop, and they said “we love the flags and would like to see the flags up all year round.”

This Monday is June 14, Flag Day. June 14, 1777 was when the Continental Congress passed a resolution making the 13 stripes and 13 stars the standard flag. The Rotarians will undoubtedly be up early on Monday putting up the flags. Mal will have his pickup ready to roll. Lindy Young, the current president of Philomath Rotary, will be there too. Lindy thinks “the American flag represents all good things. It should be respected and it should not be made into a pair of shorts.”

I couldn’t agree more, Lindy. Right along with Rotary, everyone in Philomath should get out and put up a flag on Flag Day. The flag unites us. It is something we can all be proud of. Like Mal and Lindy, we need to show our respect for our flag and what it represents to so many across our city and our country. Can we beat 50?

(Eric Niemann is a former mayor and city councilor in Philomath. He can be reached at [email protected]).

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