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  • Kim Piekos

‘Posting Flags Helps Us Remember’: Legion’s Commitment to Tradition Never Flags

By Kim Piekos Everyone’s heart lifts a little to see the U.S. flags waving in the breeze around Lake Forest six days a year. In two weeks, the first flags of 2024 will appear on Memorial Day.

How did it all begin? The tradition of posting flags throughout town, initially called the Merchant Flag Program, was initiated by American Legion members Al Glover and McKinley Gray shortly after the end of the Korean War. The City of Lake Forest drilled holes in front of businesses, and local merchants paid for a flag to be posted near their storefront.

Tom Marks (left) and Ed Geraghty get together to post American flags around town.

“In the military, we say ‘freedom isn’t free,’” said American Legion member Tom Marks, who spearheads the American Legion’s tradition.  “Posting American flags reminds us all of what this country stands for and gives Lake Forest a part in honoring that.”  

Each year, on Memorial Day, Flag Day, the Fourth of July, Lake Forest Day, Labor Day and Veterans Day, eight or so American Legion volunteers post 400 four-foot-by-six-foot flags on 12-foot poles in front of many downtown businesses, the east and west train stations and businesses that line Waukegan Road. As the City of Lake Forest has replaced concrete sidewalks and shifted parking configurations over time, some holes for flagpoles have disappeared. Marks said 26 new holes will be drilled this year.

“The city does a great job making sure we have the holes to post the flags,” said Marks, who noted flags are stored in two trailers when they are not in use.

Marks takes it upon himself to prepare the holes each year to avoid splashing dirty water on the flags and those posting them.

“People walk by and see me taking the leaves and water out of the holes and probably think, ‘He’s either committed or crazy!’ The truth is somebody’s got to do it.”

Being a natural recruiter of sorts, Marks said American Legion volunteers, as well as a few from Rotary Club of Lake Forest and Lake Bluff, post all the flags in 45 minutes. Marks says their biggest challenge is manpower, especially finding someone with a trailer hitch to haul the second trailer around on posting days.

This year, Eagle Scouts are helping by purchasing some new poles and coating them with Rust-Oleum to preserve the wooden poles.

“In the olden days, the wood was not treated, and poles rotted out,” according to Marks. “We’re grateful to the Eagle Scouts for helping us preserve our existing poles through this project.”

Marks remembered the year the flags were drenched when they were taken down.

“We can’t put them away when they’re wet or have mildew,” he explained. “My garage was lined with flags for a few days. I looked like quite the patriotic guy!”

“It’s important to stop and remember how our freedoms in this country have been preserved and protected,” Marks said. “If we don’t stop to remember and honor others’ efforts to keep us free, there’s a risk that can be lost over time. Posting flags helps us remember.”

Anyone interested in volunteering to put up or take down flags can call the American Legion at 847-234-9870.




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