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Flags fly in Columbus honoring prisoners of war and missing veterans

Columbus Telegram - 9/22/2018

Sept. 22--Columbus residents on Friday woke to an unexpected patriotic spectacle as hundreds of American flags stood tall throughout town.

The flags, erected by the local chapter of the Sertoma Club, were flown in commemoration of National POW/MIA Recognition Day paying tribute to brave soldiers who never had the opportunity to return home to their friends, family and country which they served valiantly to defend far away from its borders.

In Nebraska, 16 war veterans still remain unaccounted for, according to the National League of Families POW/MIA which sponsors the recognition day. California tops the list with 164 service members still missing in action.

Every year, the Sertoma Club takes the opportunity nine days to display Old Glory all around town in front of various businesses that pay the club a small fee which goes toward supporting its operational expenses. In fact, it's one of the organization's biggest revenue streams, said Rich Jablonski, owner of ARL Credit Services in Columbus and current club member.

Originally, the plan was for Memorial Day to serve as one of the occasions for erecting flags, however, inclement weather prevented that from happening.

A few days ago, Jablonski and other club members decided that with Friday serving as POW/MIA Recognition Day that the time was perfect to show their respect in conjunction with making up the flag-flying day lost at the end of May.

"We are actually two days behind, we have two that we need to make up," Jablonski said. "We will use election day in November as another day to get caught up with our merchants."

Early Friday, club members broke into groups and tackled 11 flag routes throughout the city. In total, more than 400 flags were flown, 60 of which were displayed in the downtown area of Columbus, he said.

"When I was first in the club in (19)85 we started small and just did the downtown area, all we really had was 13th Street," he said. "Now we are all the way out to 38th Street."

The tradition started at least 50 years ago by a founding chapter member who served in the Armed Forces, Jablonski said. He said that if feels good keeping the spectacle up and running every year and that community members seem to congregate around it.

Generally, he said, community members have a bit more notice so they know to look for the flags. But with decision being made a bit last minute this go-round, Jablonski said that there wasn't much time to spread the word, resulting in many people being a little bit unsure of why all the flags were flapping in the wind throughout the day.

Jablonski was happy to fill them in.

"Everybody kind of stops and asks what's going on. Even my daughter asked me this morning, she pulled up and asked, 'why are the flags out?'" he said.

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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