- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 1, 2007

A single British flag will be raised among more than 400 U.S. flags at a cemetery in Pennsylvania today as a symbol of friendship and solidarity with the people of the United Kingdom and the 15 British sailors and marines seized in the Persian Gulf last month by Iranian forces.

The Union Jack will be raised in Hillcrest Memorial Park’s Avenue of Flags, which became a symbol of American-held hostages after the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

“This is where a new U.S. flag was erected on each of the 444 days the Americans were held hostage in Iran,” said Tom Flynn, president of the 80-acre memorial park in Hermitage, Pa.

He said the British flag will be flown until the British troops are returned home safely. It will replace a U.S. banner that will be removed from the Avenue of Flags by a Veterans of Foreign Wars honor guard and presented to the father of the late Lt. Col. Michael E. McLaughlin of the Army National Guard, who was killed in Iraq on Jan. 5, 2006.

Col. McLaughlin, a resident of nearby Mercer, was one of five military personnel who died at the hands of a suicide bomber during the dedication of a new police station in Iraq. Mr. Flynn said Col. McLaughlin’s father will raise the British flag.

“The raising of the U.K. flag will hopefully elevate people’s awareness of this serious action of aggression by the Iranians. We think it’s the right thing to do to show support for our friends and allies.”

Mr. Flynn said he originally raised the flags — which are illuminated at night — to honor the Americans held hostage in Iran to help his two sons, then preadolescents, understand the plight of the hostages.

“We raised 100 flags on the 100th day the Americans had been held hostage” and went on from there, with a new flag for each day they continued to be held, he said. “We’ve gone through 15,000 flags.”

The British flag will be positioned along a walkway, so people will have easy access to place their notes, flowers and well-wishes.

Hermitage has 18,000 residents and is located between Pittsburgh and Erie near the Ohio border. Hillcrest Memorial Park, established in 1935, is also home to a landmark known as the War on Terror Veterans Memorial. It consists of eight steel and glass panels.

Mr. Flynn said one panel lists the names of all U.S. service members killed by acts of terror from 1975 through September 11.

“The other seven contain the names of all the men and women killed fighting the war on terror” in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said, noting that new names are added to the list each week. As of Friday, 4,000 names had been engraved.

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