Alicia Gordon and Anne Newkold respectfully take well-worn American flags – after the flags have been washed and air-dried – and carefully remove their embroidered stars.
The Wichita-area women place the stars in small bags and give them to U.S. troops and veterans, along with a note that reads:
“I am part of our American flag that has flown over a home in the U.S.A. I can no longer fly. In the sun and wind, I have become tattered and torn but not forgotten. Please carry me as a reminder that you are NOT forgotten.”
“It’s just a small way to say thank you,” Newkold said.
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Gordon and Newkold take part in a national project called Stars for Our Troops. The concept, which apparently started in Florida in 2005, gained popularity about three years ago when Susan Wells of Troy, N.Y., took it to another level, including a website.
“It’s fascinating how many people take this project and run with it,” said Wells, who estimates she has passed out more than 87,000 stars.
Gordon and Newkold began working on the project in June and estimate they have since distributed more than 2,000 stars. They find recipients through veterans groups, by attending veterans events or just by paying attention to who is around them.
Once, Gordon and Newkold were sitting at a restaurant. They noticed a man who wore a Desert Storm veteran hat.
“We both got up, handed him a star,” Gordon said. They returned to their table to finish their breakfast.
The man later came over to the table and said, “I’ve been having a hard time. This star means the world to me.”
“I thought, ‘That’s what this is about,’ ” Gordon said.
She didn’t know anything about Stars for Our Troops until last Memorial Day, when she was on her computer and the mouse malfunctioned. Instead of getting what she wanted, a link to a story about the project opened up.
“It was like divine intervention,” Gordon said.
Her husband, son, daughter and son-in-law have either been in the military or are still serving. She has six uncles who served from World War II to Vietnam.
Patriotism runs deep in her blood. It does for Newkold as well. She has 16 family members who have served, including her father.
Newkold began removing stars from used flags about two years ago, when she lived in California. She moved back to her hometown of Derby last spring.
Gordon, who lives in Wichita, was trying to start the project locally when Wells put her in contact with Newkold.
“She’s been my mentor,” Gordon said.
Flags with new purpose
Like others involved with the project, Gordon and Newkold take damaged or discarded American flags and give them a new purpose. The flags need to be about 3 feet by 5 feet so the stars are uniform in size.
Most of their flags come from veterans organizations, businesses or individuals.
“A lot of them have been flying over a home for a long time,” Gordon said. “They’re tattered and really, really worn.”
The U.S. Flag Code, part of a federal law on displaying the flag, requires that the flag “be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”
Gordon and Newkold handle the discarded flags meticulously.
They cut out the blue field and iron it if it’s badly wrinkled. The women remove the stars – carefully cutting each from point to point – and then place them in the small bags with the notes. The process takes about an hour.
The rest of the flag is put in a tote bag and taken to a Veterans of Foreign Wars or American Legion post, where it is disposed of properly, Gordon said.
“Even when I see a piece fall on my lap, it goes into the totes,” Gordon said.
Gordon and Newkold have agreed not to use any flags that have flown over places of honor, such as a cemetery.
“Those flags are folded and given to VFW or American Legion to be retired whole,” Gordon said. “Every flag deserves respect.”
Gordon and Newkold usually work separately on the flags. But when Newkold received a large number of flags this summer, they held a star party and were joined by a few others.
Matters of respect
A veteran recently told Gordon she was disrespecting the flag.
“I was left speechless,” she said. “I have a set of rules on how to do this.
“I just think, ‘You have your opinion, and I have mine.’ I’m not going to be dragged into an argument.”
What they see in the eyes of active service members and veterans – and what they hear from them – confirms to the two women that what they are doing is right.
“I’ve had veterans tell me their life story of why they were in the military,” Newkold said. “I thank them for their service and hand them a star.”
Sometimes she never sees the recipient. Like the time she gave 100 stars to a man whose son was serving in Afghanistan. The son wanted to give stars to others in his unit.
Newkold recently gave a star to a veteran who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. He told her it was his 17th star.
“He was keeping one for each of his fallen comrades,” Newkold said.
People can request a star or donate a flag by sending an e-mail to Newkold or Gordon at email@example.com. They also have a Facebook page: www.facebook.com/StarsfourOurTroopsKS.
Newkold and Gordon pay for any expenses, such as postage, out of their own pockets, but they say it is worth it.
“I remember when I first saw a bag of those stars and read the note inside,” Newkold said. “It was so moving.
“This is passing on the legacy of the flag to those who have defended her. This is what they’re fighting for, everything our flag stands for.”