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Prineville episodes of disrespect from citizens to the American flag have prompted members of the Flags of Prineville committee to explain what the flag means to military veterans

PHOTO COURTESY OF RM IMAGES - Flags placed in front of the Crook County Courthouse during Memorial Day weekend. These flags are part of the Flags of Prineville placed during special occasions, including Memorial Day.Pride, sacrifice, freedom.

If you ask a local military veteran what the American flag means to them, those are words you will hear from most of them.

The topic and meaning of the American flag of the United States of America is emotional to many and often lost upon others.

The 50 stars represent each state in the union of the United States of America, with Alaska and Hawaii added as the last two stars in 1959 and 1960, respectively. The 13 stripes represent the 13 original colonies of America. The red stripes represent hardiness and valor, and the white stripes represent purity and innocence.

In January 2015, the Flags of Prineville project was approved at a Prineville City Council meeting. Seth Crawford, a member of the Prineville Flag Committee, said the project began when people in the community demonstrated a desire to have more ways to show their patriotism. The committee is made up of patriotic businesspeople, veteran organizations and community leaders. The organization is known as "Proudly Prineville, Flags of Prineville."

Crawford recalled that a big part of their success was having the community stand behind them, including the Band of Brothers and the Oregon National Guard, when they came together and rented a drill from Hooker Creek, and SMAF Industrial provided a mobile air compressor.

"We just went up and down the streets drilling flag holes in the concrete. It was really exciting to see the veterans working with the active military and just getting to see those two generations work together," said Crawford.PHOTO COURTESY OF RM IMAGES - The Oregon National Guard assisted the Prineville Band of Brothers and Crook County Staff when the holes were drilled in towntown Prineville in 2015 to accomodate The Flags of Prineville for display days.

He added that the Band of Brothers does the bulk of the work in putting up the flags and taking them down during events.

"It's really community coming together to show our community and the rest of the world how patriotic we are," stated Crawford. "I enjoy it so much coming into town and seeing them when they are out on special occasions. They represent freedom, liberty and the fact that we live in a country that allows us to live our lives. Another really big part of what it means to me is the sacrifices that all of the veterans and current soldiers make and have made in the past. I think that is something that is extremely important for anyone to see, but especially the young people who are growing up in this world today."

Crawford added that he hopes that they understand everything that has gone into keeping that flag here and what it stands for.

"I think it is important for them to understand that the reason that they are able to do what they do in their lives is because people have given their lives and limbs and blood for this country, and that is what keeps everyone free and able to live their lives," he concluded.

Dave Sumner, who is a long-standing member of the Prineville Band of Brothers, is also a Vietnam War veteran. In November 2018, Sumner received a plaque of recognition from Rep. Greg Walden for his coordination of the Flags of Prineville program.

He voiced his recent concern and frustration for how the Flags of Prineville are often treated, especially the days that they have them out for display, including Vietnam Veterans Day, Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Crooked River Roundup, Veterans Day, Pearl Harbor Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, POW/MIA Recognition and Veteran's Suicide Prevention Month.

He noted specific incidents, including an incident on Pearl Harbor Day. There were 14 flags displayed in front of the Crook County Sheriff's Office that day in December.

"Somebody drove up on the curb and ran over one right there," he said, adding that the car snapped the flag off.

He went on to say that multiple times, young people have taken off with a flag running, and they later find it in the trees or bushes. During the recent Vietnam Veterans Day, March 30, a young woman snapped a flagpole holding a flag in half during an angry outburst.

"She needs to learn there are some things you just do not do. And for me, one is the flag," Sumner emphasized of the event.

The incident resulted in a citation, and the Band of Brothers has encouraged further education of the flag for the defendant.

In Prineville, there are just under 1,000 veterans in the Band of Brothers organization. Sumner was in the U.S. Marines and served in Vietnam, Guam and Okinawa. He recalls how he and fellow veterans were treated when arriving from Vietnam to El Toro, California in 1974. He, as well as a multitude of his fellow Marines, endured being spat on and having slurs and vulgar language aimed their way.

"Everything we have ever done to defend this United States — a lot of bloodshed in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and it just goes on and on — regular people do not understand what veterans think of that flag."

Sumner also pointed out that during parades, people often wrap the flags in tape, so they do not fly and get in their way.

"That flag is there for a purpose, and it may not be your purpose, but it is there for a purpose, so leave it alone," he added.

He went on to say that it if it were not for the American flag and the veterans who have served, we would not have the freedoms that we enjoy. In addition, each flag put out for the Flags of Prineville has an embroidered name on it, representing a veteran, a community member, or a business name. It also takes manpower to put the flags out on display days and manpower to take them down and safely store them. The process of maintaining the flag holes, the flags and putting them up and taking them down is conducted by the Prineville Flag Committee, Oregon Band of Brothers, Prineville Chapter and individuals who wish to help in the effort.

For Army veteran, Band of Brothers member, and Flags of Prineville committee member Dan Swearingen, the American Flag is an emotional topic.

"It's a focal point for me for strength of a nation and of a country, and there was so much that was founded on that flag," Swearingen said passionately. "So many people fought for it and died for it. Some people will tell you it is nothing more than a piece of material sewed together. In some respects that is true, it is different fabrics sewn together in different colors, but what it represents is just so strong."

Swearingen emphasized that the example of honoring the flag often begins with organizations that pay tribute to its meaning. He added that the respect that is learned often carries forward, even into military service. He gave the example of Boy Scouts and part of their standard is to honor the flag.

"You carry that over — some do, and some don't, but a lot of people go into the military and as a veteran, a lot of that carries with them and what it stands for and the freedom that it gives us for what this country was founded upon."

He noted that he was deployed to Iraq and Kuwait when he was in the United States Army, serving for 26 years. He added that that when coming back from an area like Iraq, it is difficult and frustrating to see people take their freedom for granted and take advantage of the system.

He added that although the flag has a lot of meaning when veterans spend time in combat, he does not think that it takes away from those who have not spent time overseas.

"At any given time, their unit, their name or their number could have been drawn and they could have been sent to a foreign country, or they could have been sent to a combat zone — it is just the luck of the draw in the military. It still doesn't take away from the fact that they served--and served under our flag."

Swearingen is also part of the Honor Guard, and they honor fallen veterans in a military service for the family. When they conduct a service for the family of a fallen veteran, they present a draped flag on the coffin, then it is ceremoniously folded and presented in a dignified manner to the next of kin.

"That means something. It is important to veterans, but it is important to the general community as a whole of what it really actually stands for," Swearingen concluded.

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