Gilbert Childers, 77, got involved with the Catoosa County Veterans Memorial Flag Project back in the 1990s, when there were about 180 flags and crosses displayed, one for each of the county's deceased veterans. His dad would poke him each year to help set them up, he said.
Childers missed a few years due to his day job as an engineer, but now that he's retired, he's able to devote the time, and even leads the volunteer group behind the honorary effort.
This Veterans Day, he and his crew will erect 1,736 flags and crosses around downtown Ringgold — 60 more than on Memorial Day, when the display was last up. Seeing the popularity of the project, citizens reach back into their familial history to honor their ancestors, Childers explained. The only requirement is that the honoree is a deceased veteran who at one point lived in Catoosa County.
Childers lives in East Brainerd now, but grew up in Ringgold. He's never counted, but he reckons he's related to 40-50 people honored through the project, including three Civil War soldiers who are getting their first displays this year.
The location of each cross and flag is random, save for the honoree's first year, when their marker is displayed in front of City Hall; but a group of local residents annually logs where each personal marker can be found.
The tribute is very much a communal undertaking. Childers said 15-20 local volunteers help with "background work" like building and maintaining the crosses, and 10 or so others plus a few police officers come by to help put them up and take them down.
"We'll keep honoring these people who helped so much to give us freedom today," said former Ringgold Mayor Joe Barger, who led the effort for years.
The local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8153 started the project back in the 1970s, but was disbanded in 2002 because they didn't have enough officers, Barger explained. At that time, the project was transferred to the city.
At its Oct. 14 meeting, the Ringgold City Council approved the purchase of 300 5-by-8-foot flags for the project at a cost of roughly $6,000. Each year, the team retires 5-7% of the flags, said Childers. After a few uses, the flags begin to show their wear. "The wind does some damage on them," he said.
The flags will stay up for two weeks and volunteers will be needed to take them down Monday, Nov. 18 beginning at 9 a.m. Those interested in volunteering can call Ringgold City Hall at 706-935-3061.
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