Golden Valley Residents Rally Around Flag Row
Starting the week before Memorial Day, Golden Valley’s Flag Row extends along Golden Valley Rd from Hwy 100 to Winnetka Ave. Hundreds of US flags, interspersed with POW-MIA flags, line the road in a tribute to those who have fallen. Over the years, dozens of Golden Valley residents have rallied to the cause. This is their story.
In 2006, the night before Memorial Day, Golden Valley resident John Giese went to Walgreens and bought every 12- x 18-inch flag in the store. At home, he typed “Pfc Gavin Colburn, 2005” on pieces of paper and taped them to the sticks of every flag, then walked down his block on Golden Valley Rd and planted one in front of every house of someone he knew. The 30-some flags extended from the Hwy 100 Frontage Rd to Oak Grove Church, with a few sprinkled down Welcome Ave.
“I just wanted them to wake up and see a flag, with a name,” says Giese, a veteran of several tours of duty to the Middle East.
One year prior, Giese had met fellow truck driver Colburn the day he arrived in Iraq with the US Army Reserve. They shook hands, shared a few pleasantries, talked about home, and agreed to talk more later, as Colburn’s convoy was preparing to leave on a mission. Three hours later, the 20-year-old from Ohio was killed by an IED. Giese found out the next morning.
“It had an effect on me,” says Giese, adding that the same thing happened two more times in his battalion. Pfc Elden Arcand, 22, and Sgt Brian Morris, 38, also died driving for the US Army in Iraq. Morris was close to retirement, adds Giese. During their brief conversation, Morris told Giese about his young daughter and how he was looking forward to getting home to a normal life with his family.
“All my conversations were very short with these people and we hit it off, then they get killed and you’re sitting there at these memorial services wondering why,” says Giese.
“Back home, I got irritated on Memorial Day,” he explains. “Everyone is grilling, or thinking about all the sales. I wanted to bring some meaning back to it. As a kid in Chicago, I always helped my dad put up flags. But when you go to war, it brings a different feeling to it, and you want others to acknowledge it as well.”
The next year, Giese went to Menards and bought 25 3- x 5-foot flags and planted them down Golden Valley Rd from the Hwy 100 Frontage Rd to the last house before Oak Grove Church, after first asking homeowners if it would be okay to do so. Not a single person objected. Giese’s friend Gregg Prest, a Golden Valley resident and firefighter, gave him rebar from old campaign signs for the posts. Giese figured out how to use wire clamps to hold the flags up off the ground.
“I go into Kuiper’s Hardware at some point and notice a Golden Valley Country Club maintenance worker and inquire about putting flags on their chain link fence,” remembers Giese. “He takes my phone number and calls back later to say that it would be ok.”
Later that night, as Giese and Prest take their routine walk down Golden Valley Rd around the Country Club and back home, they discuss how the flags need to go further along the fenceline. When Giese revealed the Club gave permission, the two ran to several nearby Walgreens and bought all of the 12- x 18-inch flags they could get and placed them on every fourth fence post along chain link fence.
In 2009, Prest and his family took responsibility for the 12- x 18-inch flags. While they were placing the flags, a member from the Golden Valley Country Club walked up to fence while golfing and handed Giese a $100 bill to help support the cause. It was the first of several such community donations.
In 2010, the Chester Bird American Legion bought a bunch of MIA-POW flags, says Giese, and the local VFW bought more flags. Everyone started pitching in.
That year the flags went all the way to Winnetka Ave, and Giese helped organize a community parade for Memorial Day with support from the City of Golden Valley, the VFW, and the American Legion. The VFW bought enough 12- x 18-inch flags to do every fence post and authorized up to $1,500 for parade expenses. The Chester Bird American Legion helped buy more rebar and POW-MIA flags and authorized up to $1,500 in parade expenses. Approximately 2000 people attended the parade.
The following year, a VFW bookkeeper was arrested for embezzlement and money was tight at the clubs, says Giese, so there was no parade but the flags went up again with more neighbors helping out from around city.
In 2012, Giese was deployed to the United Arab Emirates from April through July, so there was no Flag Row.
Last year the flags returned and the Cities of Golden Valley, New Hope, Crystal, and Robbinsdale started the “Quad Cities Beyond The Yellow Ribbon” campaign, which featured a Memorial Day program at the Golden Valley City Hall parking lot.
By then we were placing flags every 70 feet along Golden Valley Rd, courtesy of Gregg Prest’s mathematical figurings, says Giese.
Now, Giese believes his group places well over 600 flags – including the little ones on the fence. Around 250 are the larger 3 x 5s and the rest are the 12 x 18s.
“I buy them by the gross,” he says. This year his oldest son helped him pound in the poles and his younger children helped place the flags on the poles. “It’s a great bonding experience with kids,” he adds.
Giese says he likes it when people ask him what the flags are for, because then he can explain that Memorial Day is for the fallen. It’s for those who didn’t come home and for the families who are waiting.
“Currently there are 83,282 MIA-POWs still unaccounted for since WWII,” says Giese. “That’s a lot of families—a lot of question marks. Less than 1 percent of the population of this country serves in the armed forces. It’s a very small group of people who choose to serve and defend our country and all the freedoms we enjoy.”
As the flags went up this year and the media started calling, Giese wanted to stay out of the spotlight but realized there was a larger need.
“If talking about it brings awareness to the true meaning of the holiday, then the honorable thing would be to roll with it for the good of the fallen.” he says.
His advice for those who want to help—buy a flag kit, put it in front of your house, and do something to recognize those who never returned.
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