- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

LOVES PARK, Ill. (AP) - For 31 straight Memorial Days, Lee Hartsfield has provided free flags for the graves of those who died serving their country.

He’d like to make sure that there are free flags forever.

Hartsfield, 88, is out to raise $25,000 for an endowment. If he gets there, he says there’s an anonymous donor who will put up another $25,000.

He figures $50,000 is enough for an endowment to ensure that long after he’s gone the red, white and blue will wave freely, and for free, on the plots of thousands of local military heroes.

And he realizes his days are numbered.

“How many years do you think I have left?” he asked.

Hartsfield said he’s behind on publicity this year. Balance issues led to a couple of falls. He wasn’t able to help this year plant thousands of flags at the Field of Honor near Loves Park City Hall.

“I usually put the flags out the day before Mother’s Day, but I was in the hospital,” said Hartsfield, a South Pacific World War II vet whose theatrical voice and deal serious TV pitch made the former B. Sanfield in Loves Park a destination for generations of flower and jewelry buyers.

“I found some volunteers who were good enough to do that for me. So now there are some 3,800 flags at the Field of Honor. They’re bought and paid for by funds I solicited from the public.”

Until 1984 budget cuts, Winnebago County paid for the Memorial Day flags. Hartsfield responded by organizing a posse of local florists to buy the thousands of flags each year and distribute them at their stores. It was good marketing that got people into local stores, where they often buy more. And it honored veterans

But most of those shops, including B. Sanfield, are gone. The past few years Hartsfield has relied on past donors, mass mailings and corporate generosity raise about $3,000 in flag money.

This year, in addition to raising money privately, a .50-caliber ammo box has been installed near the flags. You don’t have to put money in the box to take a flag, Hartsfield said, but those who want to help build the endowment are welcome to make a donation.

He says their money will help keep the memory of fallen veterans each year on the last Monday in May, a day that was originally set aside to honor them.

“Now Memorial Day is the day they open all the swimming pools, and all the baseball games are double headers, and they run the Indianapolis 500,” said Hartsfield.

“Oh, by the way, someone said there is something about veterans who were dead.”


Online: Rockford Register Star, https://bit.ly/1jNsMKs


Information from: Rockford Register Star, https://www.rrstar.com

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