Enquirer Herald

New S.C. law endorsing flag was driven by York couple

Nobody wants the death of a son in a war.

But more than five years after Army Sgt. Shawn Dunkin died in Iraq, his parents have helped memorialize his sacrifice and that of every fallen soldier from South Carolina with an official flag honoring their last full measure of devotion.

Amid the bickering over state budget money and campaign contributions, and other forgettable stuff, state lawmakers and the governor actually got something right.

They enacted the law making the Honor and Remember flag the official emblem “of the service and sacrifice by those in the United States Armed Forces who have given their lives in the line of duty.”

Jan Dunkin put it as only the mother of a soldier who dies in a war can: “This makes my heart swell with pride.”

Shawn Dunkin, 25, died in 2007 after a bomb blew up the Humvee he was riding in during a tour of duty in Iraq. He grew up in Virginia and later lived in Columbia before joining the Army at 19.

“He called me from a McDonald’s pay phone and said to tell Dad he enlisted,” his mother recalled.

Mike and Jan Dunkin moved to York in 2003 and still live there.

Their home remains filled with mementos of Shawn’s life.

And, yes, the mementos of how he died.

The Dunkins met state Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York, and told him about Shawn and the flag project around the nation. Pope took up the cause and ran with it.

It took until the last day of the 2012 session last month for the bill to get voted on after meandering through committees for more than a year – but it passed. Gov. Nikki Haley signed it June 18, and it took effect immediately, a spokesman for the governor said.

South Carolina is the 13th state to adopt the flag as a symbol of sacrifice that honors men and women who died in battles going back to the Revolutionary War.

“This is the kind of law that honors those people who served and fought and died – those who gave all for the rest of us,” Pope said. “It honors everyone, from all parts of our state, from all branches of service.

“It is a tribute to them.”

‘A leader of men’

Mike Dunkin knows full well about combat: He served in the Army in Vietnam.

Since Shawn died, he and his wife have heard so many stories of their son’s leadership of young men.

They heard how Shawn gave the family Bible to a young soldier to help him through tough times.

The Dunkins also heard how – at the time he was killed – Shawn had given up his own leave so a younger soldier could get back to the States to see a baby just born.

“He was a leader of men,” Mike Dunkin said.

The Honor and Remember flag is emblazoned with red, white, blue and gold – colors that reflect the sacrifice of troops, an eternal flame and a gold star.

Jan Dunkin is a “Gold Star Mother” – a woman who has lost a son to war.

And truly, the flag that is now law is part of Shawn Dunkin’s legacy.

The flag honors all the troops and families, whose grief always continues, said George Lutz of Norfolk, Va., founder of Honor and Remember. The group wants all 50 states to adopt the flag as a national symbol, Lutz said, and there is even a push by some in the Congress to adopt the flag nationally.

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-Springdale, has sponsored federal legislation to make the flag a national symbol honoring all troops, but it has gone nowhere.

This flag is apolitical and supports no candidates or platforms. It is not pro-war or anti-war.

Lutz’s son, George Lutz II, was killed in action in 2005. The campaign to try to get states and Congress to recognize a flag just for troops killed in action started on Memorial Day 2008.

“This is plainly a public symbol of remembrance,” Lutz said. “It is a way to show appreciation. I am very proud of South Carolina for joining with so many others in this great tribute.”

Some public events in South Carolina that honor veterans or troops will include the Honor and Remember flag, including one that is flown annually at halftime of a Clemson football game.

And always, at the home of Jan and Mike Dunkin, that flag will fly – every day. Another flag, with Shawn’s name on it, is kept inside.

Clearly, this now-official flag will not bring Shawn Dunkin home.

It will not bring home Paul Neff II or Josh Blaney, both of Fort Mill, after Neff died in Iraq and Blaney died in Afghanistan.

It will not bring home Pat Leach or Kenneth James Butler, both of Rock Hill, after each died in Iraq.

It will not bring home Logan Tinsley or Zandra Worthy-Walker, both of Chester, after those two died in Iraq.

But the flag will fly, now as part of state law and for all to see, because of what each one of those troops gave:

Their lives.