Veterans Bridge has a new set of American flags adorning its flag poles thanks to donations from several people who paid to have them dedicated to loved ones who served in the armed forces.
The flags were showcased to a small crowd gathered in the Bluff View Art District sculpture garden Friday morning. Veterans, along with their families and friends, placed their hands over their hearts and said the Pledge of Allegiance before singing the national anthem.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke honored the service of the veterans, as well as their families, with a few comments before reading the names and accomplishments of those for whom the flags had been dedicated.
"Each flag on this bridge represents the brave serviceman or woman whose story is one of sacrifice, patriotism and love of country," he said. "Because of their service and the service of their loved ones, we truly live in the greatest country in the world."
Thirty American flags have flown over the Tennessee River since January 2003, when an anonymous donor provided the funds necessary to line both sides of the bridge. Over the course of 10 years, the donor provided money for 700 flags.
In 2014, other citizens picked up the task when the city was told the donor no longer would be providing funding and now anyone who wishes may honor a serviceman or woman by donating the cost of a flag.
The Veterans Bridge Flag Initiative ensures new flags are raised twice a year — once around Armed Forces Day in May and again near Veterans Day in November. Armed Forces Day is Saturday.
Each honoree receives from the Chattanooga mayor's office a personalized proclamation recognizing their service and listing the pole number from which their flag flies.
Hollis Allison, a former corporal in the United States Marine Corps, held his packet of information about the flag dedicated to his service and stood chatting with family after the ceremony. He said he worked in communications for the Corps from 1954 to 1957.
"I'm proud to be a Marine, I'm proud to be an American and I'm proud to be a Chattanoogan," he said. "I'll always stand for the flag."
Allison said he appreciates the honor Chattanooga typically pays its veterans, especially those who served on the front lines.
"The only time I shot a gun was in boot camp. They make me look like a second stringer or a third stringer," he said.
Also in attendance were Joe King Sr. and his wife, Frances King, both of whom are 95. It's been 75 years since they said "I do," and on Friday, they reminisced about getting married in 1942, a month before Joe was deployed to North Africa to fight for the Army in World War II.
"It was an experience," Joe King said. "We got married and then I had to leave a month later."
He said his service took him across the world, where he eventually found himself stationed on the island of Okinawa. He was there through the end of the war with Japan.
"We didn't even know they were dropping a bomb until after it happened," he said.
His wife, Frances, worked at TVA in various roles when he was overseas and she almost didn't recognize him when he came home in 1946.
"I couldn't believe it was him," she said. "He was just a young boy when he left and he was a grown man when he got back."
Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at egienapp@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6731.