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Flag Plaza evokes pride, memories as part of Randolph heritage

By Alex Salinas | Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Public Affairs | June 1, 2012

/31/2012 - JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas — The flags on Harmon Drive were officially dedicated by the Air Force Sergeants Association, Chapter 1075, on Feb. 27, 1985.

The project, spearheaded by the AFSA, was paid for from donations by individuals and organizations.

According to documents chronicling the construction of the flags on Harmon Drive, the flags represented "actions being taken to show Randolph's heritage and its great tradition of patriotic service to our country."

Numerous off-base donations showed how important the flags were not only to Randolph, but the surrounding community, Sharon McDaniel, 12th Flying Training Wing chief of protocol, said.

"In the past few years, the American people have had a resurgence of patriotic pride in their country and heritage," according to an original donation form from the project.
McDaniel explained sentiments that led up to the mid-1980s and how they played a role into the construction of the flags.

"After the Vietnam War, many troops who came home were spat upon," McDaniel said. "Men who came back from overseas were forgotten about; that was the climate of the 1970s. It was a rough time for the military, but that changed when political support surrounding Ronald Reagan brought patriotism back to the U.S."

Revived patriotism translated into several Air Force bases reviving their own look - resulting in what was to become "Flag Plaza" for Randolph.

The flags - one for each of the 50 U.S. states - complement the landmark "Taj Mahal," chapel and Missing-Man Monument on Harmon Drive and have been well-received by passersby.

Even the Randolph Honor Guard's members admire the aesthetic quality of Flag Plaza.

"It makes for an awesome, picturesque setting," Senior Airman Colby Albright, Randolph Honor Guard Flight B member, said. "You can't help but look at them when you drive into base from the Main Gate."

A part of the honor guard's duty is to watch over and replace any state flags that are faded, tattered or torn. They inspect the flags for wear and tear once per month.

The honor guards' vigilance in keeping a watchful eye over the flags transfers into their personal lives.

"When I'm watching football games on TV or driving around base or anywhere else, I'm more observant," Albright said. "I pay attention to certain things now that I didn't before."

Senior Airman Louis Diaz, Randolph Honor Guard Flight B member, shares Albright's experience and acts upon what he's learned as an honor guard when not in uniform - the honor guard uniform that is.

"I never paid much attention to the flags until I joined honor guard," he said. "I can now pick out things here and there (especially from performing honor guard routines). I pay attention to detail a lot. I'll walk into another building and fix a flag. All of this is really embedded in you forever."

Diaz even admitted he's relearned the state flags from his work of helping to replace them - elementary knowledge many people forget because they don't think about it, he said.

The 50 flags on Harmon Drive were originally slated to be flown on special occasions such as on Veterans Day, Memorial Day and Fourth of July according to documents. But because they are on constant display, they require attention and inspections.

And while Randolph's honor guard flights share the duty of replacing the flags, which Albright said is a fairly easy maneuver with the pole levers, McDaniel said the poles' design has changed from when they were first mounted.

"The old poles came in two pieces and they had to be disassembled to replace the flags," she said.

Scott Shepherd, 902nd Civil Engineer Squadron cultural resources manager, said there used to be individual plaques at the bottom of every flag pole representing the donations from individuals for each state flag.

However, when the new poles arrived, Shepherd designed the large bronze plaque in front of Harmon Drive directly across from the Main Gate, in between the two columns of flags, in November 2009. In that space, dubbed the "Avenue of American States," rests the new plaque that lists more than 50 names of individuals and organizations that helped donate money to the project, as well as three other plaques dated from 1950 and 1985 that honor Flag Plaza.

"It was a really great idea (putting up Flag Plaza)," Shepherd said. "For the few who were on Randolph during that time, there are a lot of memories to be had.

"Twenty-seven years later, the flags are creating new memories. It just wouldn't be Randolph without them," he said.