The 200 American Flags for Heroes flying in front of the Bungalow Lakehouse on Route 7 in Sterling tell 200 stories.
More than half of the flags honor military veterans and several more fly in honor of first responders. Each was sponsored by a community member to honor a personal hero.
According to Bob Caines of the Rotary Club of Sterling, he sponsored one of the flags to honor an athlete who recognized there are things in life more important than football.
“His name is Mark Williamson, and I went to high school with his father at Broad Run,” Caines said of the personal hero he is honoring with a flag. “He plays football at William and Mary, and last year he missed almost the entire season because he donated bone marrow to save a kid’s life who was in dire need.”
Williamson’s team was participating in a community outreach project encouraging people to donate bone marrow. The freshman offensive lineman decided to put his marrow where is mouth is and got tested, and was the perfect match for an 18-year-old woman.
“He played the first game and then made the donation,” Caines said of Williamson. “He thought he would miss a few weeks but he ended up missing the whole season.”
The coach at William and Mary is Jimmye Laycock, a native of Hamilton who earned 12 letters in football, basketball and baseball at Loudoun Valley High School.
“Before (Williamson) made the donation, he went to his coach and asked permission,” Caines said. “His coach said, “This is a no-brainer. Do it.’”
A year later, that sacrifice has paid off for Williamson and earned him a flag in his honor.
“By all reports, the person he donated to is doing great and he is back playing football at William and Mary,” Caines said.
The Rotary Club started Flags for Heroes a year ago and had 100 flags out along Route 7. This year, there are 200 sponsored and Caines said there still is time to participate by sponsoring a flag. Visit sterlingrotary.org for more information.
“It doesn’t have to be a war veteran,” Caines said. “It is just a very inexpensive way to show your support and give a little tribute to anyone who is a hero to somebody personally. For example, my mom is one of my heroes.
“For $50, you get to put the name of your hero on a medallion we put on each flag. When the flags come down, we give the medallion to the person who sponsored the flag and they can distribute it to their hero or family member. They can put it in a frame or used it as a Christmass tree ornament. It is just a little keepsake for being someone’s hero.”
Caines said he got the idea from a fellow Rotarian.
“There are several clubs across the country doing it, and I have a friend in the Lewes, Delaware, club and they have been doing it for four or five years,” he said. “We are the only club doing it, that I’m aware of, in this area.”
Caines said the help of Bungalow Lakehouse owner Keith Early and his staff has been instrumental in the success of the project.
“We have our meetings every Monday at the Bungalow, and Keith is an honorary club member,” Caines said. “He supports us supports our club with this and many other things we do.
“The Bungalow’s facilities manager, Tim Reedy, has really been great. Last year, we didn’t really know what we were doing trying to put the flags together and put them in the ground. This year, he just said, ‘How many holes to you need?’ and he took care of everything for us.”
Early echoed Caines’ praise for Reedy’s efforts with the flags and said Flags for Heroes was a natural fit for him.
“I sit in on their meetings once in a while, and they were discussing a club in, I think New Jersey, that had come up with this idea,” Early said. “I said that would be perfect out in front of our restaurant and I would allow you guys to do that.”
Early said he already sponsors an annual dinner for veterans the Wednesday before Veterans Day, and he liked the idea of honoring other types of heroes with Flags for Heroes.
“In fact, the inaugural year I sponsored 10 flags and this year my wife has put in another five,” he said. “It’s just something we truly believe in.
“Veterans week is the obvious week to do it, but a big part of my interest is that it was for recognizing any heroes. Kids’ heroes. Neighborhood heroes. There is too little of that.”
Caines said the event is a fundraiser for the club to complement the golf tournament it sponsors each spring.
“It supports our community efforts like scholarships and the other things we do to give back to the community,” he said. “It’s really neat when we’re putting up the flags and people are driving by, honking their horns in support. You don’t see enough of that in this day and age.”
The club put the flags up Nov. 4 and he said they will remain up for another two weeks. Caines encouraged people to recognize their personal hero by sponsoring a flag.
“It’s not just a fundraising campaign, it’s our way of giving back to the community,” he said. It’s a great way to give back to our heroes.”
Main image credit: Rotary Club Sterling