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Broad stripes, bright stars shine on bridge

American flags displayed over state Route 11

STAFF PHOTO / Nathaniel Hawthorne Basil Jarrett, husband of Mary Lou Jarrett, attaches a zip tie to stabilize one of the many American flags displayed on the King Graves Road bridge.

CORTLAND — For the last four years, American flags have proudly been displayed on the King Graves Road bridge that crosses state Route 11.

Mary Lou Jarrett and her husband, Basil, have played a huge role putting up the flags. The two partnered with the Four Seasons Garden Club and Warren Junior Women’s League, both of which Mary Lou is a member.

“When I retired, I wanted to learn to quilt and serve the community in any way I could,” Mary Lou said.

She has always had a soft spot for veterans and with the various local groups that help veterans, she felt it was her responsibility to help in any way she could.

Starting in 1991, Mary Lou began serving the community by putting up American flags throughout the Warren and Cortland areas as president of the garden club that year. Local businesses and community members were contacted in an attempt to raise money. In total, 100 flags were purchased.

When Mary Lou and her friend, Becky Bucco, were driving to Columbus, they passed under the Polaris Bridge that also displays American flags. An idea to bring this sense of patriotism to Trumbull County formed, but one key element was missing: where to display the flags. A five-year search for the right location would follow.

In 2014, construction on the bridge gave Mary Lou and the groups the opportunity. The addition of the bridge fencing was the perfect chance.

“When we found out a fence was going in, I told Becky, ‘this is our dream,'” Mary Lou said.

Logistically, it took roughly four months before she was given the green light. Permission was needed from the Ohio Department of Transportation and Howland and Vienna townships, because a portion of the bridge lies in both communities.

From then on, the flags have been a permanent fixture on the bridge. The lifespan of the flags ideally is two years, and when the flags get changed, they still get put to good use.

Mary Lou said when the flags get taken down, the stars are cut out and taken to veterans hospitals, where they are passed out to veterans. They also are handed out to veterans at parades and other events that honor the military.

Once the flags have served their purpose, a retirement ceremony is held with Boy Scout troops. The flag burning is in accordance with the U.S. Code Title 4, chapter 1, subsection 8 that states “The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.”

After the fire is extinguished, the ashes are buried.

“It’s a solemn ceremony,” Mary Lou said.

Every two years on Make A Difference Day in October, the flags get replaced with new ones. When the flags first got displayed approximately eight people helped put them up. That number has jumped to close to 25 now and is comprised of people from high schoolers to Ohio State Highway Patrol troopers who lend a hand.

The flags also have brought a sense of community to the area. Mary Lou said when there is an issue with the flags, they always receive a call about the problem. She also said people will just do what they can to help fix the flags themselves.

“When people fly into the air base and see the flags or drive across the bridge, they say it means so much to them,” Mary Lou said.

nhawthorne@tribtoday.com

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