Flags Honor Capital Region's Fallen
If you’ve traveled along Route 9 in Latham and Loudonville over the past several summers, you may have noticed a stretch of American flags flying on utility poles. While many communities display the red, white and blue along their main thoroughfares, these flags represent something more for the Capital Region.
From May to September, American flags line a roughly 4-mile stretch of Route 9 going past Colonie Town Hall and Siena College. They are the work of Please Remember Me, a community project founded by Navy veteran Tom Regan. Air Force veteran Gene Loparco joined with Regan to get the first round of flags flying in 2013, kicked off with a roughly 80-vehicle motorcade.
“And what we wanted to do, once we had this established, was to display as many flags as we can on Route 9 here in Latham and Loudonville, which is known as the military highway prior to George Washington's time,” Loparco said. “And what better way to display American flags, but on the four-mile stretch that we wanted to. And this is to honor and respect those who made the supreme sacrifice for our freedom, which we know is not free. And actually, since World War I, we have 1,900 in this Capital Region that made that sacrifice, both men and women. And unfortunately, the figures don't stop.”
Each American flag – which total 165 due to the number of utility poles – is adorned with a black mourning ribbon. For this project, the Capital Region is defined as the counties of Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady.
“We found a May 30, 1946 article in the Times Union that listed Albanians, 346 names, so that got us started as far as knowing other than friends, even my cousin Robert Razzano from Cohoes. He died in Vietnam. So we have his name on the Vietnam Memorial in Lafayette Park,” Loparco said. “But those names, that 346, it seems like I was always updating my statistics and also photocopying. And the next thing, you know, we started to go not just Albany, but Albany County because you have different hamlets and cities and villages and towns in Albany County. So then it went from 346 to easily to 1,000. There easily, like I said, and then we went to the Capital Region, and then it skyrocketed to 1,200, and so forth. The World War I veterans, just the last couple of years, I decided to put them in…we're not going any further than World War I.”
Each year National Grid workers volunteer to put new flags up – which cost about $3,000, paid for through donations and support from Trustco Bank.
“Those 1,900 deserve new, not replenished or just handed down,” he said. “They deserve new. They had one life and it was new to them. And they sacrificed it. That's the least we can do, is buy flags every year.”
When the flags are taken down in September, they are packaged up and given to various individuals and organizations. Loparco, who served during Vietnam, says the flags honor the sacrifice not only of the fallen, but also that of their friends and families.
“This brings home and to your heart that we should show respect and honor to those who died for our freedom,” Loparco said. “The supreme sacrifice, that's a phrase that is used loosely sometimes….where that's only one life. That means that each flag represents 10 that never came home for a holiday or the parents or the families didn't have their loved one.”