It’s no accident the flags were out early today. When folks got to where they were going on Memorial Day, veterans wanted the reminder already on their minds of why they can.
“There will be people going to celebrate the day with their families,” said Harvey Mayhill, Air Force veteran and organizer of the Memorial Day flag waving on the I-77 bridge at Sutton Road. “We want them to remember what that day is really about.”
Veteran advocacy group Rolling Thunder now organizes the flag events. Mayhill, a member, was asked by the man who started it all to keep the tradition going. Rolling Thunder gathers to waive American flags from interstate overpasses each Memorial Day and on Sept. 11. A member or two might make it for other occasions, like on April 15, when the Boston Marathon bombing occured in 2013.
The bridge at Sutton Road is now named the Patriot Leonard A. Farrington 9/11 Memorial Bridge, after the late Rock Hill resident took to it on Sept. 11, 2001 as terrorist attacks on this country unfolded. He sparked a movement of patriotism leading to others with other flags, on other bridges. Every interstate overpass in York County has had at least one event.
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“(Farrington) took the flag off of his house, walked out to the bridge and starting waving the flag until it got dark,” Mayhill said. “His wife had no idea what had happened to him, where he was or what he was doing.”
Farrington’s widow, Betty, figured it out. She brought that same flag out Monday morning , joining close to 30 others. It wasn’t her first time waving.
“This is my husband’s flag,” she said. “I’m 90 years old, but I still make it.”
Some flag events brought a half dozen people. Some brought 50 or 60. They’ve grown from one man with his stars and stripes, to and open invitation for others.
“It has opened up as a community event,” Mayhill said.
Long-time Fort Mill resident Alice Crocker was the first to wave Monday. Truckers were honking at her before she stood the flag up straight.
“I’ve been doing it for a few years,” she said. “I had two husbands who were in the Navy. The older I get, the more I appreciate their service.”
The couple dozen flag wavers Monday tended toward the older side, which didn’t surprise Crocker.
“When I was younger, I think I took it for granted,” she said. “The older I get the more I realize what a mess we’d be in if they didn’t do what they do.”
For Farrington, the event is a memorial on two fronts. She remembers people who gave their lives for their country.
“We need to show them some respect and show we remember them,” she said.
The event also reminds her of what her husband began.
“I just hope he knows that it’s still going,” Farrington said. “I know he does.”
Event veterans know what to expect when they show up, though surprises often greet them.
"We have had people come by with five dozen donuts and two gallons of coffee,” Mayhill said. “We've had people come by with three dozen hamburgers. We had a truck come drop off two boxes of potato chips. We’ve had firemen or police come and flash their lights or turn on their sirens.”
One time, one year, two young people flipped the flag-wavers the bird, Mayhill said. Much more often though, it’s someone circling back from the next exit up, or waving.
“It's a constant stream of horns honking when you're out there,” Mayhill said.
Which helps keep the event going. Veterans served, many giving their lives as Memorial Day reminds us each year, so people both can honk in support — or flip the finger of their choosing. That so many more appreciate the flags means something to the people who wave them. It means a country worth celebrating, and worth remembering.