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When you awake Saturday morning, she’ll be there – the Grand Old Flag. America’s Stars and Stripes will be waving proudly from homes, businesses, around the square and up and down Main Street from Thurman Funeral Home to Shaw Street in Richmond.
She’ll be waving majestically in towns and cities throughout the country; she’ll be there as surely as the sun will come up in the morning.
Flags have lined Main Street every Fourth since the summer of 1985 when TWA pilot John Testrake returned to Richmond after being one of 153 passengers and crew taken hostage on June 14. Two Lebanese Shia Islamists took control of TWA Flight 847 and held many of the hostages, including Testrake, until June 30.
Richmond prepared a hero’s welcome for Testrake, when he returned on July 3. Besides the flags flying at homes and businesses (the stores were sold out), over 200 more flags were set out for the happy reunion. It wasn’t an easy task to install the poles for these flags.
“The ground was like rock. We went to Memory Gardens and got pipe to drive them in,” said Jim Rippy. “I remember it vividly. We had the scouts help us drive the posts.”
Rippy said he didn’t know how long before Testrake’s return it had been since flags were flown down Main Street on special holidays.
“Someone else had them up too,” he said. “There are clasps on the telephone poles from the 1950s.”
This Saturday, Rippy and other volunteers will be busy all day, putting up, watching over, and then taking down approximately 40 flags along Main Street. There is no fund to cover this.
“I have all kinds of help and we do it from the back of a pickup. My daughter, wife, son-in-law, Rob Smith and many others help,” said Rippy.
“I don’t take many patriotic holidays. I get up early to put them out and run the street four to five times a day to re-hang the ones that fall. Trucks or buses sometimes knock them down. If you see one, recover it if you can and call the Richmond Police Dept. I’ll re-hang it.”
When the Richmond Rotary called Rippy in December to present him with $500 from the Reverse Raffle to use for flags, the question was raised whether to put flags down Spartan Drive or around the square.
“On the square, they had enough foresight to alternate flag brackets on one pole and flower hangers on the next,” he said. With the vintage streetlights and hanging baskets of mandevilla flowers provided by Abbie Hockemeier, the square truly looks beautiful.
Flags and poles were purchased from Larry’s True Value. Nylon flags were chosen for their durability and all weather attributes.
Rippy puts out and picks up about 40 flags up and down Main, while Smith will put out and pick up the 25 flags around the square, to City Hall and down to Shaw Street, and around Salvation Army and College Street. That amounts to approximately 65 flags total.
“I get whoever I can find to drive me around to do this,” said Rippy. “We really need help maintaining them. Three to four times a day, something happens to them and requires us to put it back up.”
Rippy and Smith hope the public enjoys seeing the flags on this Independence Day. Take a moment to reflect on this great nation and what it has taken to protect and preserve our freedom.
If you see a fallen flag or bent pole, or wish to help set out/pick up flags, please contact the Richmond Police Dept. or call Jim Rippy at 816-739-9899.