The Fourth of July celebrates history, stars and stripes, which Fresnans honored Monday by raising and saluting flags across the central San Joaquin Valley.
At the Veterans Home of California and Fresno State, color guards moved in unison to raise flags – one traditional red, white and blue, and the other white with a bicentennial emblem – in celebration of independence and American pride.
For veterans, watching the American flag debut on a brand new pole outside their bedrooms in the courtyard of the Veterans Home was a proud and exciting moment this holiday.
“We’re so fortunate to live in a country that has so much respect for the people who built and fought for it,” said Michael Purcell, a 78-year-old Army veteran. “I’m so proud to see them build this for those who weren’t lucky enough to be here seeing it now.”
Purcell served abroad after the Korean War and was immensely proud of the memorial raised to honor the country and the people who fought for it. His military experience gave him a profound appreciation and sense of respect for the flag, he said.
The flagpole and surrounding circle of remembrance, a reflecting pool and plaque, were constructed completely from community donations. Residents reached out to family and friends to raise money for the project, which was completed last week.
“The flag symbolizes the United States of America,” 93-year-old Air Force veteran Loyd Carver said. “I was just so glad they were honoring the flag and the country and the people who served it.”
The World War II vet was appreciative of the care put into the new flagpole, and he said it would be a way to respectfully reflect on the friends who have been lost.
“The idea was that they wanted to have a flagpole that they could lower to half mast when a neighbor passes away,” said Fresno Home spokeswoman Julie Cusator. “They live together, and they form bonds, so they wanted to be able to honor someone who was like a family member, a fellow veteran, by lowering the flag.”
In the spirit of remembrance, another flag was hoisted at Fresno State in memory of the 40th anniversary of the nation’s bicentennial.
The uniquely historic bicentennial flag has tasted the wind above the United States Capitol and White House in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, the California State Capitol in Sacramento and Fresno’s own City Hall. Now, it has found a permanent home at Fresno State.
“I wanted it to be in a secure location where it would have a home,” said Elvin C. Bell, who gave the flag to Fresno State President Joseph Castro. “This is the only flag like it in the world.”
Bell gifted the white flag to Fresno State after keeping it safely in a bank deposit box for 40 years. The flag was made for the 1976 bicentennial celebration of Independence Day and has since flown in several politically important places around the globe, making it a piece of history unto itself.
The flag was given to Bell by friend and former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Carl Albert. Bell offered advice during the Cold War and gave counsel to President Ronald Reagan during his military career, in which he served in both the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard before retiring as a brigadier general.
He felt the flag would have a greater impact outside of its safe deposit box, and he chose his alma mater as the recipient. Bell graduated from Fresno State in 1959 with a degree in journalism and eventually returned to teach as an adjunct professor. He also served as a Fresno city councilman and mayor pro tem.
Bell’s latest contribution to the community will fly below the American flag for the next week and on special occasions outside Fresno State’s Save Mart Center, said Lawrence Salinas, Fresno State director of governmental relations.
Bell’s neighbor, Lynn Storey, said the flag carried a good message of how far the nation has come in 240 years, which she said was especially relevant for Fresno State students who come from all over the world to study.
“As long as the students know the history of the flag, it’ll be a good reminder of what this country fought for,” Storey said. “Our country needs that right now.”
Correction: Michael Purcell’s age was incorrectly reported in an earlier version of this story. He is 78. He also served in the Army after the Korean War.