ALPENA - People who enter into Alpena by land or water have been greeted over the years by the waving welcome of a 30-foot by 50-foot American flag pasted against the sky above Thunder Bay.
As of Tuesday morning, however, a smaller version will be flying over the harbor due to the cost associated with replacing the large flag and having it repaired throughout the year.
The new flag is significantly smaller - 20 feet by 38 feet - but it will receive less of a battering from the winds. Harbor Master Don Gilmet said the decision to move forward with smaller flags boiled down to dollars and cents.
News Photo by Steve Schulwitz
Mike Liske and Leon LaMay pay respect to the new American flag while Don Gilmet raises it to the top of the flagpole. The new flag is slightly smaller than the previous one but still measures 20 feet by 38 feet. Liske is a member of the Spruce VFW, and LaMay is a Cootie in the Alpena VFW Post 96. Each organization donated $100 toward the purchase of the new flag.
"The main necessity is just cost, just like everything else," Gilmet said. "The city has been maintaining the flag. The cost of the large flag ran between $1,200 and $1,500, and in any given year each of those flags would undergo $500 worth of repair, which consists of cutting them off shorter, and eventually the flag would become too short and not look right. In an effort to save money, we found these flags where we can get two flags for the price of one."
The cost of the new flag - $599 - was offset by contributions by a pair of local Veterans of Foreign Wars chapters who donated money to defray the costs of the new flag. Gilmet said even though the new flag is a shade touch smaller, it still will be able to be seen for miles.
"The really nice thing is the Spruce VFW and the Alpena VFW Cooties each contributed $100 toward the purchase of the flag," Gilmet said. "It shows the dedication of the support from the veterans to keep a nice flag flying in Alpena. The minute you come in from the north and looking down Chisholm Street, you're looking right at the large flag. It also looks great from the lake side for approaching boats."
The old flag that was removed on Tuesday will be kept and possibly used from time to time for events like the Fourth of July, Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
"This is the last of the large flags, and we may use it for special occasions," Gilmet said. "We rotate them out as they become damaged. In high wind events, the flags get frayed, and as soon as we notice we pull it down and get it repaired and swap in one that is in better condition. When it is no longer usable, we give it to the VFW and they burn it."
Gilmet said no matter what the size of a flag, looking upon the red, white and blue should bring a sense of security, pride and relief to those who have defended it on the battlefield and those who saluted it from home.
"It meant a lot to have the large flag down at the harbor, but the flag has a special meaning to all Americans, especially veterans groups in Alpena who are made up of men and women who fought in the wars to protect our freedom," Gilmet said. "When that flag's up, it just sort of tells you everything's good. No matter how bad everything is, when we see the flag, our heart gets pumping, and you know everything is OK."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.