A group that has maintained a huge American flag in Veterans Park was awarded the city’s highest honor on Memorial Day.
The Veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam were all named Patroons by Mayor Gary McCarthy at the start of Schenectady’s Memorial Day ceremony.
The group buys a flag large enough to fly with dignity at the top of the very tall flagpole in the park. The flag is so large it costs $500 or more — and because it is exposed to the weather, it has to be replaced often.
“We actually have two flags,” said group member Robert Albee, a torpedoman who served in the Navy just before the Vietnam War.
When one flag is damaged, they replace it with the other while they try to repair the first, then they hoist that one back up. Most damage can be repaired if it’s caught early enough, group members said, but the flags still last only a matter of months.
“It takes an awful beating up there,” said Stanley “Skip” Johnson, an Army specialist who served during the Korean War.
Albee and Johnson thanked the mayor for honoring their group rather than picking out one person. Usually, the honor is not given to an entire organization, but they said it was appropriate in this case.
“It’s a joint effort,” Albee said.
Ginger Seburn, who served as a private first class in the Army during the Cuban Missile Crisis, started the flag project in 2001, just after the 9/11 terror attacks. Every day, she drove to work by Veterans Park and sat at a stoplight staring at the flag.
“I would look up, and the flag was this big,” she said, holding her thumb and forefinger an inch apart. “It bothered me.”
She raised money for a flag that would better fit the massive pole, choosing a flag that measures 20 by 30 feet. The pole is so tall that the tie-down is 10 feet up and the flag waves above the treetops in the park.
After Seburn started the project, the group took it over. But they didn’t just have to worry about replacement when the flag was damaged; Seburn found herself organizing one fundraiser when a flag was stolen just before the Fourth of July in 2006.
As she looked at the flag with pride during Monday’s ceremony, she said she wished everyone was required to go through boot camp after high school.
“My military training has stuck with me all these years,” she said. “I learned how to be a person, just looking at everything with respect, respecting everybody and doing the right thing.”
Buying a flag is a small thing, but the group has never trumpeted its effort. Fundraisers were handled quietly, and members never sought public thanks for their efforts. McCarthy said the group was long due some recognition.
“They have served our community in many more ways than the public realizes,” he said, adding that they have been devoted to Veterans Park. “They never speak publicly about their efforts. Today I thought it would be fitting that we take a few moments and recognize those who have given so much to our community.”