By MATT FREEMAN
The flag climbed for the first time up the tall flagpole, and you might think the crisply blue sky itself wanted to show that this was a day set aside for remembrance and recognition.
Some 100 people sat on rows of folding chairs in the parking lot outside the Willowdale historic-home office of U.S. Rep. Joseph Pitts, bundled up against the chilly morning air, taking part in a special Veterans Day event. Above them a large flag, hanging from the ladders of two fire trucks, waved slowly in the cool breeze.
The speakers for the day emphasized making the recognition of veterans a personal thing, not just for strangers in distant countries or the distant past, but for relatives, friends, and neighbors whose service in the military you might not be fully aware of.
One prominently personal note was the flagpole itself, a bequest to Pitts from Karen Mullen, a longtime supporter who had died ten years previously. The pole had been stored away, but was finally available to be used again at Pitts’s office and was recently installed there with a plaque recognizing Mullen. Before the flagpole came, Pitts’s staff would hang a small flag outside the door at the beginning of each work day.
But on Monday, November 11, the flagpole was ready. The crowd had taken their seats, the fire-truck flag waved above them, martial music played from a loudspeaker, and a color guard marched in and stood at attention.
Victor Dupuis, a financial planner and vice president of the Unionville-Chadds Ford school board, spoke about the history of the crossroads, and then said how Karen Mullen had been a longtime supporter of Pitts from the time he was a state representative. The flagpole had stood at the Mullen’s Unionville business, but her wish was that it go to Pitts, and that wish had come true.
Pitts then spoke, saying Mullen had grown up in a military family and had a special feeling for members of the armed services. “She served the public well,” he said. “Karen was a patriot.”
“As a veteran and son of a veteran, this is deeply meaningful to me,” Pitts added.
Cuyler Walker, chairman of the East Marlborough Township Board of Supervisors, noted the importance of the Willowdale crossroads to the area, and thanked the property owner, dentist Joseph Eckman, for having renovated the Willow House, where Pitts had his office. He told the story of one of his own family members, severely wounded in World War I, as an example of stoicism in the face of suffering.
Another speaker, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Henry Detering, a former principal at Octorara High School, lamented the way Veteran’s Day is taken less seriously today, with less personal connection to service members. “Far too few people stop and remember this day,” he said. “It isn’t that they don’t care; they don’t know.”
But when people do know what sacrifices their fellow citizens made, they learn to care, Detering said. After a distinguished career in the military, Detering became a science teacher and then principal of Octorara Area High School. Once, he said, some students came to him to write an article about his experiences in the service for the school newspaper.
Detering suggested they talk instead to one of the school custodians, an unassuming man the students knew as “Bob the janitor.” The students came back in a few days with a new respect for the man, Detering said. They had learned that he had fought at the battle of Chosin Reservoir, a brutal Korean Conflict engagement in which outnumbered American troops fought their way through surrounding Chinese troops while enduring bitter cold for which they were not equipped.
The custodian had downplayed his own unit’s heroic role in the battle, but he still made the students understand that you may not always know what contributions people you are acquainted with have made.
The time came to raise the flag, and Mullen’s grandchildren sent it to the top of the pole as the crowd applauded. After the Pledge of Allegiance and singing the national anthem, Dupuis asked the veterans in the crowd to stand, and the attendees applauded them too, relatives, friends and neighbors, people with a personal connection to the others there, being recognized for their service.