The Keepers of 7,000 US Flags in Quincy, IL. on Memorial Day
This Memorial Day weekend is the time for all Americans, far and near, to set aside their differences to remember and honor America's servicemen and women who have sacrificed their lives for the nation.
On Memorial Day, Americans can take a moment for remembrance, if they so choose to honor the unknown and known service people.
President Barack Obama has called on the American people to join him in paying tribute to America’s veterans, servicemen and women, and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and their families.
In his weekly remarks, "America’s troops and their families embody what is best in America, and the American people have a responsibility to serve them as well as they have served us."
This Memorial Day weekend, Americans will gather on lawns and porches, fire up the grill, and enjoy the company of family, friends, and neighbors. But this is not only a time for celebration, it is also a time to reflect on what this holiday is all about; to pay tribute to our fallen heroes; and to remember the servicemen and women who cannot be with us this year because they are standing post far from home – in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world.
Readers can view video of the President's weekly address on Memorial Day here:
Long before President Obama's reminder and far away from the national spotlight, an extraordinary couple has been volunteering to honor the fallen American heroes at Sunset Cemetery. It is one of the largest veteran cemeteries in the country, in Quincy, Adams County, Illinois.
For over a decade, in Quincy, Illinois, George and Chris Black have been quietly honoring the fallen American soldiers. They are the keepers of the 7,000 American flags displayed in Quincy's Sunset Cemetery by hand-washing and pressing the flags, and fixing the miniature wooden flagpoles that marked each grave on each Memorial Day.
The Blacks would take bins of flags home where Mr. Black would fix the miniature flagpoles and Mrs. Black would hand-wash and iron each flag in time for Memorial Day.
Mrs. Black volunteered to iron the flags after she and her husband took children from their church to the Veterans Home for a service project.
"They're just thrown in these bins," Black said. "When it's time to put them up, they're all wrinkled and dirty.
"When we took them down, I asked the guys, couldn't you get some organization to press these flags and make them look nice, and they laughed at me. They said nobody would do that, and I said I would. ... I didn't realize how many there were."
"I started in 1999 and I've done it every year since," Black said.
It is a project that would have required a dozen or more people to accomplish, but Mrs. Black is happy to start ironing months ahead. She irons daily for several hours at a time.
There are 600-1000 flags in each bin. According to Mrs. Black, each of the fallen American deserves to be honored with a clean and well pressed flag on Memorial Day.
The enormous act of kindness and patriotism started simply enough. Chris Black and her husband George volunteered to put up the flags at the Veterans Home 11 years ago, when Chris was not satisfied by the condition of the flying flags.
"I said why couldn't some organization take this on as a project and clean these flags up and press them?" Black said. " And they laughed at me. They said nobody wants to do that. And I said I will."
With 600 to 1,000 flags in each bin, Mrs. Black works for months, ironing sometimes several hours a day, until all the flags are pressed and ready to fly. She estimates that the entire project takes over 70 hours to prepare all of the flags.
George helps with the process out in his wood shop.
"I just repair the ones that need new sticks on them, or need an extra staple, or need tips on them," George Black said. "I like the flags with tips on them. I think they look better."
Each year for the past 11 years, the Blacks, school children, and volunteers would place these American flags before the gravestones and niches of service members buried at the Sunset Cemetery in Quincy just prior to Memorial Day weekend.
The Blacks hope residents take a moment to visit the cemetery over Memorial Day weekend, honoring the service men and women and to see the flags.
"If there's a little bit of wind it's just gorgeous," Chris Black said. "Because they flutter, there's 7,000 of them."
While Mr. and Mrs. Black have been honoring the nation's war heroes quietly all through these years without fanfare and public notice, it is hoped that readers will also honor George and Chris Black as extraordinary keepers of the nation's flag in remembrance of fallen American heroes.