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Soldiers help vets retrieve flags on Victory Drive

Nearly a dozen officer candidates from Fort Benning joined area veterans groups July 10 to scoop up more than 100 American flags and poles along Victory Drive in Columbus.

The Avenue of Flags were posted prior to Memorial Day but won’t be put back up until before Veterans Day in November. The collection stretched from Spencer High School’s driveway to the Chattahoochee Valley Veterans Council building — formerly the Welcome Center — which is adjacent to the National Civil War Naval Museum at Port Columbus.

The display is an annual project of the Gold Star Wives, which purchased the first flags in 1968 to honor Soldier husbands killed in the Vietnam War. For the past 25 years, the Military Officers Association of America’s Fort Benning Area Chapter has supported the group.

Saturday marked the first time Army officer candidates assisted in a flag removal, said LTC(R) Sam Nelson, chairman of the CVVC, which organized the effort as the umbrella agency for tricommunity veterans groups.

“The beauty of this whole thing is you got the young guys and girls from OCS and the older veterans taking each other’s hands to do this project,” Nelson said. “The contact they get, we believe, will pay dividends in the future. The young officers today will be veterans down the road. Hopefully, this helps keep them involved.”

The flag retrieval was part of a class service project involving 11 members of E Company, 3rd Battalion (Officer Candidate School), 11th Infantry Regiment: Jeff Creech, Christopher Fritz, Antonio Tritto, Darryl Barnett, Krista Searle, Lauren Popp, Kara McNeil, Adam Wojciechowski, Christian Raduvescu, Manny Douanguala and Daniel Gregory.

Tritto, E Company’s student council vice president, said the rest of the unit spent Saturday clearing brush on a Habitat for Humanity project — but all the officer candidates were eager to help the Columbus and Fort Benning communities in some way.

“We’re only here for a short time and wanted to give something back,” he said, “because we’re going in with nothing and leaving with something substantial: our commissions. Any time you can help out veterans and help out the community at the same time, you can’t ask for anything more.”

The Columbus Police Department escorted the entire group down Victory Drive. Other volunteers included American Legion Post 323 and three residents from House of Restoration in Phenix City, which assists homeless veterans.

After collection, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 665 provided a work area for the Gold Star Wives and others from American Legion Auxiliary 267, who inspected the flags, cleaned them and placed the colors in storage. Nelson said about 80 will fly again for Veterans Day, but 23 are no longer serviceable. It costs $25 to replace each flag.

The VFW will present certificates of appreciation to each officer candidate for their community service. The group just finished its 11th week and is set to graduate July 22.

“Once again we have learned an age-old lesson,” Nelson said. “When we all work together, we multiply what we can accomplish for our community.”