NO DOUBT Wilkes-Barre has more pressing needs than scores of American flags dangling from streetlights along the city’s two main traffic corridors. More police, more paving, more maintenance, more code enforcement, more firefighters … pick a public service, and the cash-strapped county seat needs more of it.
But the stars and stripes that popped up in recent weeks along Market Street Bridge and Public Square aren’t city bought; they are the result of private donations to a fund set up by PennStar Assistant Manager Dave Lepore in hopes of fulfilling a long-time dream of World War II veteran Jim Walsh.
Thus the flags transcend physical needs of the city. Walsh wants them lining Main, Market and Coal streets as reminders of sacrifices all veterans made, of the rights and responsibilities those sacrifices bought and of the respect the banner should inspire.
In this way the flags feed a spiritual hunger, a fact proven by the comments of students at West Side Career and Technology Center who raised $580 in two weeks for the Public Square phase of the project. When Walsh and Lepore came to accept the donation, Walsh gave a brief speech about his experiences, and what the flag means to him.
“It was like talking to a piece of history,” class valedictorian Emily Mansilla said. “He certainly changed my view of the flag.”
“It really opened my eyes,” history club president Ian Nelson agreed, noting he, like Walsh 70 years ago, is enlisting in the military at age 18. “It made me realize his age group really was the Greatest Generation. They never took anything for granted.”
The flags are a non-partisan, apolitical, bottom-up effort to help remind anyone driving, riding or walking through Wilkes-Barre of what’s best in America, and how many made great sacrifice so we could enjoy everything we have. They can spur conversation or contemplation. They can be the basis for more educational programs such as Walsh’s visit to West Side.
The project, like the flag itself, deserves support without polemics, petty politics or preconceptions.
They are the dream of a selfless veteran made real by the work of a thoughtful businessmen. Consider opening your wallet for something that has already helped open eyes.