RICHMOND, Va. -- At Woody Funeral Home, staff members are trained to deal with endings. But for Mike Schatzberg, this assignment is a first. The hearse driver is carrying something precious.
"We’ve had 20 to 30 people in a day coming in," Schatzberg said. "It's a really great thing. People really appreciate it."
For this Vietnam veteran, few items rank higher than the Stars and Stripes.
"I started packing them up Monday. It took me a full day to pack the flags up,” he said. “It makes me feel good. It makes me feel like the country is still patriotic.”
Call it Operation Flag Farewell. A partnership between funeral homes and the Virginia War Memorial gives Richmonders an opportunity to part with Old Glory. In the last five months, more than 1,200 American flags were collected. Last year funeral homes collected about 600 flags.
“There needs to be a decent way to let that flag go,” Bernie Henderson, with Woody Funeral Home, said. “It is the physical symbol and embodiment of all that is great of this nation. And all that we hope to be.”
The official delivery attracted much media attention at the War Memorial.
Mike Schatzberg soaked in the moment from the sidelines.
“It was spine-tingling. It really was,” he said. “I appreciate them asking me to do it. I really do.”
Fellow Vietnam veteran Steve Hardemon didn’t have the heart to toss or burn his three banners.
“I can’t do that. It's not the proper way to dispose of the flag," he said.
Each aging flag will be turned over to the American Legion for a proper sendoff.
“It's never a piece of fabric," Dr. Clay Mountcastle, Executive Director of the Virginia War Memorial, said. "The flag means too many things to many people. It demonstrates the love people have for the flag."
For these Stars and Stripes, it’s the end of the line. Mike Schatzberg said he’s happy to see a tradition born from the beginning.
"It was an honor. A tremendous honor,” he said. “I didn’t expect it. It was very heartening. It was really nice. It was a great thing.”
Each person who turned in a tattered flag was given a new flag as a replacement. The funeral homes hope to collect more than 2,000 American flags beginning next spring.
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