More than a flag
How a PEC crew helped keep a tradition — and a memory — alive.
Two years ago, longtime PEC member Karen Casey lost her husband. Since then, she says she has been learning to do things on her own — and sometimes with the help of others. Last spring, when a strong windstorm dislodged her flagpole from its concrete mooring, her friend, PEC Journeyworker Daniel Friesenhahn, came by to have a look. He let Mrs. Casey know that the job would probably require heavy equipment and some welding.
Daniel talked to his supervisor, and PEC decided to fix Mrs. Casey’s pole as a community service project. On Oct. 8, Daniel and his crew — Journeyworkers Justin Debusk, Jason Ellebracht, and Joshua Goff, and Equipment Operator Donald Sprouse — came, re-sat, and welded the flagpole back into position.
“Before they left, we put up the Texas flag, and it was wonderful to be able to see it flying in front of the house again,” Mrs. Casey wrote in an email to the cooperative. “I cannot thank you enough for this kindness. We have flown a flag for 25 years and it means a lot to me to keep up this tradition.”
When we talked to Mrs. Casey, we found out this tradition runs even deeper than the memory of her husband, who was a veteran of the U.S. Army. In 1966, when she was in the ninth grade, her brother’s airplane was shot down in Vietnam. For decades, his remains were not found. He was listed as missing in action (MIA), and for some time, she held onto hope that he might be alive.
“When I was a teenager, I had these daydreams that he escaped and had no memory,” Mrs. Casey said. “That maybe he had hidden in a cave and somebody found him and he was okay.”
Eventually, her dreams of finding him alive faded, and her hope became simply that someday his body would be found so he could be given a proper burial.
About 15 years ago, Mrs. Casey and her mother attended the annual meeting of POW/MIA families in Washington, D.C., where she bought a flag. Since then, Mrs. Casey has flown that flag four times a year: on her brother’s birthday, the day he was shot down, Veterans Day, and Memorial Day. She continued to honor his memory and hope that he might one day be found.
Then, something extraordinary happened. In 2012, using a swab of DNA from Mrs. Casey’s mother’s cheek, the government made a positive identification on remains near the area her brother’s plane was shot down. After 48 years, the news finally came: The family’s wait for their soldier to come home was coming to an end.
On Oct. 26, 2012, U.S. Airforce Airman First Class Jerry Mack Wall’s remains were buried in the midst of Medal of Honor recipients at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. “Fort Sam Houston is where my father served. The entire family met there, and the Air Force was so wonderful to us. We had a beautiful service,” Mrs. Casey remembered, the sound of her voice conveying the richness of the memory.
“We met the jet on the tarmac,” Mrs. Casey said. “I have a really sweet picture of my mother — she was 90 then — reaching out to touch that flag-draped coffin. Since 1966, she waited. They had a remarkable procession, all kinds of pedestrians holding flags because it had been on the news, and it meant so much to us.
“They put him in such a wonderful place. We were so proud and happy, just to get him back.”
Mrs. Casey’s story adds incredible depth to the simple good deed of fixing a member’s flagpole. We thank her for sharing it with us, and Daniel and his crew for helping keep her important tradition alive. Thanks to them, she’ll be able to fly her flag in her brother’s honor this Memorial Day, and we’ll all have one more reason to feel proud.
The U.S. Government continues to search for the remains of American soldiers in and around Vietnam to this day. According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, while the remains of more than 1,000 American soldiers have been repatriated from the war, more than 1,500 are still unaccounted for.