Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Washington Post Features

May 28, 2013

Flags become symbols of hope, unity in tornado-damaged Oklahoma

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MOORE, Okla. —

No one seems to feel they are in this alone. Police cars stand guard against looting. Every few minutes, a truck from the American Red Cross, a local restaurant, a church group or a battery company passes along and pauses to offer food, water and provisions. Young men wearing fraternity T-shirts help clear debris. Insurance adjusters take pictures. Several residents, unbidden, express gratitude for the assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

For some residents, planting the flag is a way to show their thanks for the outpouring of help.

Someone planted 13 small American flags before the splintered house of Jerry Woods and near the one remaining brick wall, where a neighbor wrote in black paint, "Thank You Jerry U Saved My Family Lives." Woods, a disabled Vietnam veteran, sheltered 22 people and three dogs in his small underground storm shelter designed for 12 people. His Veterans of Foreign Wars post, 8706, is sending him $500 to get back on his feet, but he plans to endorse the check over to another neighbor, who wasn't insured for anything but a car.

"It's what we do as Americans," he said as friends and relatives carted away debris. "The American flags here are what we do. It's times like this when people pull together."

Some of the flags on display were among the homeowners' most valued possessions.

Ed Steiner, a retired city building official, had two flags in front of his house Thursday. One, flying from a pole outside the garage, flew every Fourth of July and Memorial Day. The other, draped over his car to dry, covered his father-in-law's coffin. It was presented to Steiner's wife, who displayed it in a triangular, glass-front box on a cedar chest by their home's front door, so that it was the first thing people saw upon walking inside.

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