Forget what you sometimes hear about Americans losing heart toward patriotic symbols like the Stars and Stripes.

When the huge U.S. flag waving over the 91 freeway and the 241 Toll Road near the hills of East Anaheim went down earlier this month, it didn’t take long for people to notice. 

It also didn’t take long for people to spring into action.  

When it comes to the nation and our flag, the right people always seem to show up.

It’s our most endearing characteristic as a people.

Bill Cook – a former U.S. Marine and one of the key leaders on the effort to create a state veterans cemetery in Orange County – says the flag always brings out the best. 

“It’s us,” Cook said. 

“It’s who we are.” 

The flag is raised by veterans, public officials and attendees at the groundbreaking for the Veterans cemetery in Anaheim Hills on Dec. 8, 2021. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

When cemetery district officials went onto the proposed 300-acre cemetery site near the old Gypsum Canyon exit on the 91 Freeway in the early morning hours of June 7, they were confronted by a downed U.S. flag, more than 30 feet wide and 60 feet long. 

Along with a rising tide of public phone calls about it. 

Both Cook and Nick Berardino, another former Marine and president of the Veterans Alliance of Orange County (VALOR) advocating for the veterans cemetery, say they started fielding phone calls immediately. 

“It’s a beacon of hope, a symbol of freedom and a reminder of sacrifice,” Berardino said about people’s passion for the U.S. flag.

He added, “Especially for those who have sacrificed to protect the flag; it represents their pride, belief system, safety and security for them and future generations.”

“It’s become a staple,” said OC Cemetery District General Manager Tim Deutsch of the flag, noting that this year’s rough weather strained the top grommets holding it onto the pole. 

Officials and the flag got lucky that morning as one local firefighter with the Orange County Fire Authority got a wildlands training trailer stuck on the property and called for help. 

That call got a fire engine out on the scene.

The crew onboard the engine was eventually asked to also help get the flag off the ground.

“It’s a massive flag,” said firefighter Dustin DePaola, who worked alongside three other OCFA firefighters – including Alberto Morales, Jaime Martinez and Luke Collins – to get it cleaned and folded up.

From left, Dustin DePaola 35, and Luke Collins, 33, at OCFA Headquarters in Irvine on June 28, 2023. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

DePaulo said they found the flag down, in a big pile around the flagpole, covered in dirt and leaves. 

After repairs, a host of district workers – including Tony Gallegos, Luis Mejia, Martin Patino, Albert Soltero, Brandon Meza and Fernando Griego – later hoisted the flag back up.

Credit: Courtesy of OC Cemetery District.

At many fire stations across America, hoisting the U.S. flag up and properly taking it down is part of the beginning and end of each day. 

OCFA fire stations ended that practice some years back, going to all-weather flags, which are now flown 24/7 with proper lighting, officials said. 

But the flag remains close to their heart, say these OCFA trainers.

“We carry it on our shoulder,” said DePaulo, noting that it is displayed backward to indicate the fact they are always going forward into battle. 

Dustin DePaola, 35, points at the American Flag patch on his uniform, explaining the significance of a backward flag on his uniform. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

“It’s an oath of honor we took when we took on the job,” he said. 

“It represents the country and the well-being of our country,” said Firefighter Luke Collins, who also was on hand to refold the downed flag. 

“It’s nice to see it up,” Collins said, “It’s good to see people still care about the country.” 

Collins – who said he’s comforted to hear the future veteran’s cemetery is also going to have a first responder’s cemetery – appreciated his chance to work with other firefighters to get the flag folded. 

Usually it takes two people to fold a large flag. 

This one took six.

For Collins, there’s a practical side to focusing on fundamentals, like folding a flag.

“If you do the small things right, you do the big things right,” he said. 

Earlier this month, on National Flag Day, OCFA Captain Danny Goodwin and the crew of firetruck 56 did just that with their own flag rescue. 

The crew – including Engineer Martin Kuhn and Firefighters Andy Davis and Chris Linton – used their truck’s 100-foot ladder to put a new American flag high up on top of the historic Miramar Theatre in San Clemente. 

Courtesy of OCFA Captain Danny Goodwin

Goodwin, who is a second generation resident of San Clemente, also serves on the agency’s honor guard, which takes up the task of presenting folded flags to relatives of deceased firefighters. 

Beyond being a symbol of freedom, Goodwin takes comfort in the flag as the nation’s unifying symbol.

“It’s the one thing that unites Americans in general, politics aside. We’re all Americans.”

Last year, in Laguna Niguel, during what was later called the Coastal Fire, OCFA firefighters took time to save a U.S. flag from one home amidst flames and later presented it back to the family who lost their home.

So much of life, of freedom, comes down to showing up. 

It’s the small things. 

That’s why a generation ago, open government advocates in California and across the United States pressed for things like public records and public meeting laws.

They showed up. 

The laws they got passed, and left us as legacy, mandate any documents produced by the government can be seen by residents and that public agencies have to give residents 72-hours notice before government leaders can sit down to discuss public business or take action. 

The art of showing up is key to democracy. 

Not just in battle. 

But also in peacetime. 

Public speakers wait their turn to speak during a city council meeting in Orange County. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

As a local news source, Voice of OC remains focused on connecting residents to the hallways of power that protect and enhance their quality of life.

We also realize that half that battle is alerting people to public meetings.

That’s why this week –  starting with listing the upcoming July 4 fireworks shows across Orange County –  Voice of OC readers will be able to regularly access a running free civic calendar.

The free calendars will run on computers and on mobile phones.

They’re choc full of weekly civic public meetings along with listings to lots of free county park and recreation and library events throughout the county. 

Now, you just have to show up. 

Upcoming Events

“Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights,” founding father and former President Thomas Jefferson wrote.


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