The 30 American flags along the sides of Veterans Bridge in downtown Chattanooga have a relatively short but notable history.
According to the city's website, starting in 2003, an anonymous donor provided the money to keep flags flying, paying for about 70 flags a year. In this way, the flags battered by the elements could be replaced consistently.
After a decade — and 700 donated flags — the donor informed the city the charitable gesture would no longer continue.
Then in 2014, Scott McKenzie asked if he could donate money for a flag in honor of his father, a retired Coast Guard captain. And the Veterans Bridge Flag Initiative was born.
As of Thursday, that initiative appeared to be flagging out. Of 30 flags, at least six are ragged; most are visibly dirty, even to motorists speeding across the bridge. Two of them — at markers E10 and W9 — are ripped and hole-ridden. Another has a broken chain link and could break off at any time.
"I had a conversation with the Chattanooga Division of Transportation on Tuesday about getting these replaced, and new flags should be up in the next few business days," Ellis Smith, the city's director of special projects, said by email when asked about the sad state of the flags.
"Flags have been typically replaced as part of a biannual ceremony held on Memorial Day or Flag Day in the first half of the year, and on Veterans Day in the second half of the year. However, high winds and storms can cause premature wear and tear, and so we occasionally need to replace them early, as in this case."
Regardless of the schedule, we shouldn't wait for a ceremony or national day commemorating veterans to replace tattered banners.
"The flag will fly for 6 months or until such time as weather damage requires its replacement, whichever comes first," the Veterans Bridge Flag Initiative's website reads.
Well, in this case, the damage came well before.
More embarrassingly, a later addition to the initiative website said the five poles in the center of the west side of the bridge "will fly flags permanently in memory of the five servicemen who perished in the July 2015 tragedy."
With 15 on each side, it would make sense for the five middle poles to be represented by W6 through W10; W9 is among the most tattered of them all.
Hey, maybe the ceremonies were derailed by COVID-19; everything else has been.
"I understand that the Berke administration made the decision not to hold the ceremonies during the early stages of the pandemic, due to not wanting to expose our veterans to any heightened risk," Smith said, referring to former Mayor Andy Berke.
Fine. Understandable. Then get a dude in a bucket truck — masked-up, of course — and tend to the flags.
And Mayor Tim Kelly did have ceremonies on Flag Day and Veterans Day in 2021, according to Smith, so it's not like these flags are 3 years old. They just haven't been a priority.
The new mayor and his administration have had a bunch on their plate, but hey, with thousands of folks expected to be in the Scenic City for the Ironman 70.3 race this weekend, you'd think we would put our best face forward — and glorious new American flags on the Veterans Bridge should be included.
So here's hoping the city's transportation department will hustle up.
Moving forward, how about we give proper respect to the symbol of our country and honor those who serve, who have served and who gave the ultimate sacrifice to America?