Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I Wish I Knew the Story

If you're a regular reader of my ramblings or have the pleasure of knowing me personally then you will know how I get about stories. The goal of my photography is to allow people to look at my work and have it bring out memories that they pass along to those who surround them in the hope that THEY will pass the tales along in the future. One of my earliest posts in this blog helps you understand how the discovery of a small, seemingly insignificant item can suddenly take on a life of its own.

So imagine how chuffed I was (chuffed is an English term meaning excited and currently without a Wikipedia entry) when my wife called from the States saying she had found a large American flag at a second-hand shop. From her description of it, it sounded like a "casket flag" of the type used at the funeral of a US Armed Forces veteran upon their burial. Sadly, it was folded and hanging from a coat hanger.

Upon the flag's arrival back here in England I found it was indeed a casket/storm flag measuring 5x91/2 feet in size and manufactured by the Valley Forge Flag Company of Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The stars are made of individual pieces of cloth sewn onto the blue field as opposed to being completely embroidered as most flags I've seen lately are. The two brass grommets have the number "2" stamped on them. Not sure if this gives an indication if it's age or not. Sadly, there were a series of stains (they appear to be from the flag being wet, perhaps stored wet) below the star field running through many of the white stripes. Happily, after numerous washings and a couple of attacks with a toothbrush and stain removed they're almost gone. I'm still in the process of trimming the stray thread from the stars. As far as age I can only say that it is a 50 star flag and dates itself to the post-1959 timeframe.

OK, you have a big American flag. So what?!?!?!

I photograph many US Armed Forces family members to include active duty Air Force members as well as a fair number of Boy Scouts, both of which look just cracking in front of a huge US flag. As this one was 1/3 the price of a new one, if nothing else it was certainly good value for money.

But here's the nostalgic part of me making an appearance:

What's the story behind it? The thrift store it was found in (Valley Thrift) is located just a few miles away from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. Dayton has quite a large number of military retirees. Casket flags are used in the funeral service of an honorably discharged veteran and presented to the family at the conclusion. Was this flag used for this purpose? What was the history of this veteran; what had they seen, what stories could they (or did they) pass along to the next generation? Had the family member passed away and the flag been found and donated? Was it used as a casket flag at all or as a storm flag?

I wish I knew as I have mixed thoughts about using it. Am I showing disrespect by using it in the course of my photography (properly displayed according to the US Flag code, and only for the aforementioned purposes)? On the other hand, might it mean more to someone having their portrait made with a flag honoring a veteran?
Honestly, I'm just not sure. I can say I'm proud to own it and if nothing else it has been cleaned, mended and stored according to protocol. If you think this might know the history of this flag or have any thoughts I'd love to hear from you.

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