GASTONIA, N.C. — Neal Lambert, a U.S. Navy veteran and a member of the United Veterans of America, has seen the nation’s largest flying flag daily for years. But the sight of the super-sized stars and stripes still inspires awe and pride.
“It makes me feel proud to be an American and proud to have served my country,” Lambert said.
He and others will be bringing the giant American flag to the Half Century of Progress Show to be held Aug. 24-27 in Rantoul, Illinois.
The flag will fly over the festivities Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Rantoul National Aviation Center.
While two enormous cranes from Custom Service Crane will raise and hold the flag, Lambert said everyone is welcome to lend a hand.
Lending a hand to help load and raise the flag at the show has become a tradition for many showgoers.
“We love to have whoever is up there come and help us raise it and take it down and folks at the show love to be involved,” Lambert said.
Lending a hand to veterans in need is part of the flag — and the group’s — mission.
“We help veterans, feed them, help them find housing if they are having trouble with that. We have veterans that come in and we provide meals at our hall every day. If there’s a veteran in need, we try to help them out,” Lambert said.
The group is also working to create a park around the 200-feet-tall flagpole where the flag flies when it isn’t on the road.
“We are building what we call Patriots Park. It’s a big star around the bottom of this flagpole. We are raising money to continue working on that,” Lambert said.
The flagpole and the group’s hall are in rural Gastonia, a suburb of Charlotte in the Piedmont region of North Carolina.
The group is also raising money through donations to purchase another flag. The flag is a special order from Lone Star Flags in Texas.
“The wind gets hold of them pretty good. We are really in need of another one, but we need to raise about $25,000 to get it. They are so expensive because they are a special order,” Lambert said.
He said the group will have information about the flag, their group and the park at the show. They will also be taking donations toward feeding veterans and purchasing a new flag.
The group has been bringing the flag to Rantoul for a number of years. The group has been traveling and displaying the flag around the United States for the past 25 years.
Rod Vollmer of Custom Service Crane in Fisher, Illinois, said the company is proud to supply the two cranes that will serve as temporary flagpoles at the show.
“They call and ask and we’re just happy to do it,” he said.
Even with the two cranes supporting the flag, Vollmer said the flag is lowered if wind speeds pick up.
“At a certain wind speed, we shut it down, but we always have two members of our crew onsite the whole time. They may lower it a few times during the show if it gets too windy,” he said. “The flag is rigged up to be lifted. We drop the hook, they hook it up and we lift it up.”