Driving through Cuba City and Hazel Green late Monday afternoon, one can't help but notice the American flags. So, where did they all come from?
I was contacted Monday by a gentleman by the name of Larry Eckhardt from Little York, Ill. At first I was somewhat hesitant about his quest to bring 2,000 flags to Hazel Green to honor Staff Sgt. Jesse Grindey, however, after seeing the flags flying in the wind along Main Street in Cuba City and subsequently along Hwy. 80 through Hazel Green, I quickly learned this man has done something special.
In speaking with Eckhardt in Hazel Green, he briefly mentioned the meaning of the flags. To him, they are not just flags, they are symbols of what Staff Sgt. Jesse Grindey was doing in Afghanistan. A majority of the flags are representations of the fallen heroes of the 9/11 tragedy. Eckhardt said many of the flags have stickers on them, which represent a fallen member of that tragic day, whether it be an airline stewardess or a Pentagon worker. Thus the story he said comes full circle, as if it weren't for 9/11 he wouldn't be in Hazel Green to honor a local hero.
Eckhardt himself is a hero, although he won't take credit for doing something so noble. Eckhardt receives no pay for his contribution to the motorcade held Tuesday. He arrives in a town for one main goal and that is to honor. To honor the fallen, to honor the ones who went before and to honor the family who is feeling the pain of losing a loved one. As quickly as he arrives in town, he is gone, almost as if he was never there.
"To be truthful, I do it because I think it needs to be done," Eckhardt said. "We had a local soldier go down in our hometown and there were over 1,000 people along the streets and only 50 flags and honestly that wasn't enough."
Eckhardt said it's a small token of his gratitude for what each soldier has given. "It's important for me to have people understand what this young man and his family have given up," Eckhardt said. "This is this young man's last gift to this community because he is bringing people together to make them realize that he did give a gift. This is a continuation of his life as it brought people together who haven't seen each other in months. If they have a heart they come together."
Eckhardt is a semi-retired landlord, which allows him to travel. His time and travel is done on his dime. He doesn't ask for any pay or handouts. Eckhardt usually spends his time in a hotel and pays for his own meals. This time, he is staying in Dubuque at the Holiday Inn and his meals are paid for compliments of the local businesses in Hazel Green. Any leftover will be donated to Eckhardt to help with the upkeep of the flags.
For Eckhardt, honoring Staff Sgt. Grindey is his 77th flag display. He has traveled to Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Missouri and Iowa. "This has nothing to do about me," Eckhardt said. "I am just a guy with a lot of flags. I will continue to do this until I am no longer physically able to."