Flag Day: FL Keys flagpole climber reflects on Stars and Stripes
Every June 14, your calendar reads: “Flag Day.”
Does anyone care?
John Hamrick does. He fixes flagpoles for a living — sometimes 600 feet in the air. And he says every day ought to be Flag Day.
“It’s one of those things that’s taken for granted and it shouldn’t be,” Hamrick said. “Take a moment to think about all the different times you see a flag, whether it’s during the national anthem or draped over a casket.”
He also encourages people to fly the flag at home or outside a business and take good care of it, including replacing tattered ones.
Hamrick, 58, a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, has for the past three years lived on a 46-foot catamaran moored off Key West. He works across the nation, getting calls when someone needs a flagpole fixed.
“I service them,” he said. “I just do the things no one else wants to do.”
He replaces ropes and pulleys, and sometimes has to do a “flag recovery” when the banner gets stuck.
Hamrick readily confesses that he doesn’t normally seek out heights.
“I hate heights,” he said. “I can’t go to the edge of the building and look over. But let me put on all my gear and I’m almost fearless.”
Using a full harness and webbing that goes around the flagpole, Hamrick actually climbs the pole.
“I shimmy up six inches at a time,” he said.
But something happened when he began fixing flagpoles. Old Glory began to make him think of American history and also his dad who served in the Navy.
“I became more passionate about Flag Day,” he said.
He also spends time talking to schoolchildren and other groups about the importance of Flag Day. He likes to strike up conversations with strangers or acquaintances about the holiday.
Each year, the president issues a proclamation for Flag Day, which is part of Flag Week that starts every June 9. Flag Day marks the date in 1777 when Congress adopted the emblem.
“Since the Second Continental Congress adopted its design more than 200 years ago, the stars and stripes has been a powerful symbol of freedom, hope, and opportunity,” according to the White House statement on the holiday this year. “Wherever Americans are gathered — sporting events, places of worship, parades, and rallies — our flag waves proudly, representing the enduring spirit of our country.”
Flag Day has been around since 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson marked the anniversary of the 1777 decree by establishing June 14 as Flag Day. Congress followed up in 1949 by enacting a statute that officially recognized Flag Day, reports www.united-states-flag.com.
In 1937, Pennsylvania was the first state to establish Flag Day as a legal holiday.
But it’s nowhere near a paid federal holiday, and it’s no July Fourth in how it’s viewed.
Hamrick admits he didn’t think about Flag Day until Sept. 11, 2001.
“Everybody had flags,” said Hamrick, who as a full-time firefighter in Indiana was among the first responders who traveled to New York to help in the recovery process.
The experience humbled him and bolstered his patriotism.
“In my years of doing this, I can count on two hands the people who know what June 14 is,” he said. “You know what, it’s every day. No matter what day you think is Flag Day it’s every day. I really don’t think as a country the awareness is there.”
One experience Hamrick is most proud of is the time he got to fix flagpoles at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, including on the USS Arizona Memorial, both in Honolulu.
The memorial is on the southern end of the island of Oahu, and can only be accessed by boat from the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, according to the National Park Service. The visitor center is not on a military base and is accessible to the public.
He was honored to be of service. And when asked to submit a bid, he volunteered to do the job.
“I did it on my own dime,” he said, adding that he did round up some donations to travel from Key West to Hawaii in 2016. It was for the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.
“Hawaii called,” he said. “I answered. The hair on the back of my neck just stands up and I had tears in my eyes.”