- Associated Press - Monday, June 22, 2015

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Roy Wells wonders how people can cherish family members but not give the same respect to the American flag.

“You have a picture of your mother on the wall? That’s what the flag means to people like me. It is as real as my mother,” said the 67-year-old Army veteran, who served as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam.

Disrespect for the flag bites like a personal insult.

“It truly does hurt,” Wells said. “If I come over to your house and drew a mustache on a picture of your mother, you wouldn’t think too much of that. But when you step on the flag, I don’t think much of you.”

Since 2008, Wells, a Bixby resident, has set apart a day to honor the flag by giving it to those he holds in the highest esteem, the Tulsa World reported (http://bit.ly/1TqPSff ).

On the Saturday before Flag Day each year, Wells leads a group of motorcyclists and drivers to grave sites in northeast Oklahoma and plants flags on the burial plots of service members who have died on active duty since Sept. 11, 2001.

Motorists in Tulsa and across the state also participate in the memorial event, called Ride to Remember, and visit more than 170 grave sites before Flag Day.

“We picked Flag Day to make it special,” Wells said.

Flag Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the U.S. flag on June 14, 1777.

A group of six drivers, including several parents of deceased servicemen, joined Wells to make their first stop on a Saturday at two quiet cemeteries in Inola.

Wells gently unrolled a small flag at the grave of Pistal Crane, an Army veteran who died March 28, 2008. He was 23.

Wells removed his hat and pressed his charcoal beard to his broad chest to pay his respects. Several women in the group tidied Crane’s grave and then secured the flag in a vase next to his marker.

“I can think of no greater symbol to honor our heroes than the American flag,” Wells said. “It’s the same symbol they died fighting for.”

He’s been known to stop his black truck when he sees a tattered flag flying around town. He will ask its owner to retire it or often tucks aging flags in his truck for a dignified retiring ceremony later.

Wells believes passing years have warped majority views on respecting the flag.

“Forty years ago, we were baseball, apple pie, Chevrolets and ice cream,” Wells said. “I do not believe the symbolism of the flag today is as respected daily as it was.”

So he carves out this day on his calendar and incorporates the flag in a special annual event.

For others, respect for the flag looks more like daily ritual than the ceremonial.

By 5:30 on any given morning, Lawrence Mancini has leashed up Elly, his golden retriever, and is walking through the secluded streets around Esplanade Condos in south Tulsa.

Mancini and Elly amble past the 65-unit condominium neighborhood again at 7 a.m., after lunch and then several times in the evening. Mancini, a Korean army veteran now in his 80s, uses these daily walks to check on the flags flying from 55 of Esplanade’s 65 units.

When Mancini, a New Jersey native, moved to Tulsa in 2006, he became involved in his homeowner’s association. Then he presented an idea.

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get every unit to display the flag?” he had asked. “I just thought it would be wonderful.”

So he set out, rounded up cost estimates and began stockpiling flags, poles and brackets for any neighbors interested in flying Old Glory.

If someone wants a flag in Esplanade, they call Mancini.

With the help of neighbors, he also offers to install the brackets and put the flags up.

Mancini’s daily walks help him figure out who’s moving in, who’s moving out and who’s gone on vacation. He keeps an eye on flags with loose brackets or tattered edges.

During a sunny post-lunch walk with Elly on a recent Monday, Mancini headed toward the condo of Dick Bevins, a friend who lives down the road.

“This is the street,” Mancini said as he turned the corner toward Bevins’ place, “where everybody has a flag.”

Bevins, 79, stepped out his front door in gold-toed socks to meet Mancini.

Bevins, along with residents Helen and Robert Smith, adds to Esplanade’s high-flown patriotism by putting small flags in the ground around the neighborhood on certain holidays.

But ask him about the hanging flags, and Bevins immediately will gesture to his friend.

“That’s his doing - all the flags,” Bevins said. “If it wasn’t for him, they wouldn’t be here.”

“Get outta here,” Mancini replied in a New Jersey tone.

“Well, it’s true.”

Like Wells, Mancini questions why others mistreat a flag that he takes such care to respect.

“I just get riled that we permit people to burn the flag,” he said. “Sometimes our liberties are way beyond what I would call common sense.”

Though Mancini considers 55 out of 65 units adorned with flags “darn good,” he hopes for improvement.

“My goal is to get 100 percent with flags, but it’s never going to happen,” Mancini said. “One man says he doesn’t believe in it. Another says you don’t need the flag to be patriotic. What are you going to do?”

He believes people can show national pride without the flag, but it’s his personal ritual of displaying and maintaining the stars and stripes that help him observe Flag Day on a daily basis.

“For me, it’s a symbol of freedom,” Mancini said. “I believe in the flag.”

___

Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com

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