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Martha Patterson, left center, covers her heart as Sgt. Jim DePrimo, of the Chattanooga Police Department, sings the National Anthem on Friday at the Sculpture Garden at Bluffview. Patterson donated the flag in honor of her brother. Police Chief Fred Fletcher, far right, and others, salute. Carolyn Holland, front right, and Tiffany Holland flank Patterson in the photo. Thirty American flags hang high above the Veterans Bridge in downtown Chattanooga. Twenty-five of the flags are donations, with five permanent hangings in the 6-10 west positions, according to Caroline Johnson, ceremony organizer.
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Martha Patterson watches proceedings at a flag raising ceremony for Veterans on Friday at a pre-Memorial Day flag dedication ceremony at the Sculpture Garden at Bluffview. Thirty American flags hang high above the Veterans Bridge in downtown Chattanooga. Twenty-five of the flags are donations, with five permanent hangings in the 6-10 west positions, according to Caroline Johnson, ceremony organizer.

Martha Patterson waited for Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke to start Friday morning's flag-raising ceremony as raindrops fell and motorists honked horns while crossing the Veterans Bridge.

Patterson, who has lived here for the last five years, donated an American flag in honor of her three brothers — James, Richard and Will — who served in the Navy.

"I'm very proud, " she said, "especially since they are raising our flag first."

As Berke started the ceremony, he asked the family members of those being honored to stand, and before recognizing each honoree, he announced that the five flags in the middle of the Veterans Bridge will forever fly in honor of the service and sacrifice of the five military men killed in the attacks on July 16.

The mayor reminded the crowd about the sacrifices made by all of the men and women in uniform before offering brief comments about a very real problem Berke's administration has made a high priority.

Berke reiterated his aim to end homelessness among veterans by the end of the year, saying passionately, "If someone fights for our country, they should not have to fight to have a roof over their head."

He's right, of course, and moments like Friday provide the all-too-infrequent reminder of the sacrifices made by the men and women in all branches of our military.

As Berke read the names and service details of those the 27 flags were donated for — there were three more flags on the bridge donated for general groups of our dedicated military folks — the job descriptions were as diverse as the challenges they faced.

Engineers. Soldiers. Seamen. Medics and nurses. Airmen, including a blimp pilot who hunted submarines in World War II. There were long-since-departed heroes from almost every war of the last 70 years; some people donated flags for those still serving around the world today.

It takes so much to defend a nation that we too often take it for granted. It takes so much on a national level because the sacrifice is so great on the individual scale.

For Patterson, the memories of her older brothers James and Richard, both of whom fought in the Pacific in World War II, as well as the laughs and tears growing up with Harry in East Texas, will be as much a part of that flag as the stars and stripes.

It's that sacrifice and devotion that is as much of the fabric of our nation as it is the fabric of our flag.

"I'm proud to be an American," said Chattanooga resident Yeoman First Class Lewis Gross after the ceremony that included a flag raised in his honor.

Sitting on a metal folding chair with an ear-to-ear smile that was equal parts pride and gratitude, Gross carried the deserved air of hero Friday.

He is 95 — "I'll be 96 in August," he was quick to add — and served for three years in the Navy, crossing the Atlantic 21 times carrying troops and whatnot before being transferred to the Pacific.

His last official mission was a difficult one, as he and his shipmates had orders to pick up a large number of troops off the Philippines and take them to mainland Japan in August 1945. The odds were long and the stress great, Gross said.

During the trip an atomic bomb was dropped, and they received news that Japan had surrendered hours before arriving in Yokohama Bay. That turned a dangerous military mission into an 11th-hour order to provide occupational troops during the transition.

His love for his country will forever be clear, as will his faith in God for how his service ended.

"The only thing I know is everything is because of our Lord Jesus Christ," Gross said. ""If it's not for Him, I'm not here today."

Amen.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com. His "Right to the Point" column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays on A2.

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