The Pembroke Flag Committee did things a little differently this year.
After putting the city’s popular flags and crosses up in advance of Memorial Day in May, committee members decided rather than take them back down again until Independence Day, they’d to leave the display up through June and the July 4 holiday.
It’ll stay up until July 11, some 200 flags and crosses in all and each representing a local veteran while turning downtown Pembroke into a sea of red, white and blue.
“We wanted people driving through town and visitors to see what Pembroke’s all about,” said Amy Barnes, who serves as secretary and treasurer of the Pembroke Flag Committee, a small group of volunteers who handle the work involved in keeping the flags flying. “They can see how proud Pembroke is of our veterans.”
While much of the work to put up the display and take it down is handled by the committee, which includes members of American Legion Post 164, with manpower also provided by the Pembroke Fire Department and community volunteers – including on one occasion U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter — the origin of display is a bit unclear.
Many credit the late Bob and Virginia Quattlebaum with being “instrumental,” in getting it started. And though exactly when that first display occurred, it’s certain the flags have been flying on McEachin Square for some time.
“They’ve had the display as long as I can remember,” said Alex Floyd, 32, a local historian of sorts who grew up just outside Pembroke city limits. “The difference is there weren’t as many flags and crosses when I was younger.”
For years, American Legion Auxiliary Unit 164, through the work of members such as Dot Thornton, Susie Magee and Marsha Clark, were responsible for the display. Various organizations such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts have also pitched in over the years to make sure the display was standing tall.
The display has grown over the years, with as many as 10 flags and crosses added yearly. Still, there have been bumps in the road.
Due to lost records, some of the older crosses no longer had anyone paying the $10 annual fee to help with upkeep. Funding to replace flags and crosses has occasionally been an issue, and lack of volunteers young enough to do the physical labor has also at times made keeping the flags flying a precarious proposition.
As recently as 2022 there have been appeals for financial help, including one on WTOC which Barnes said reached viewers near and far and helped put the display on better financial footing.
A program for the Memorial Day observance listed the main donors to the display – First Bank of Coastal Georgia, Flanders Powell Funeral Home, Canoochee EMC, Liberty Auction, Butler Tire & Lube, Carol Bacon Miller, PC, PAC TV, the city of Pembroke, Piggly Wiggly, and Savannah’s American Legion Post 135 and American Legion Post 135 Auxiliary.
All donations are appreciated, Barnes said, and anyone who wants to come help put the display up or take it down is welcome. The Pembroke Flag Committee’s Facebook page, Pembroke Flags, is often updated with details on when such work is needed.
Floyd, who recently served as a speaker at the AL Post 164 Memorial Day observance, said then the display is something the city is famous for.
“Everywhere you go in Georgia people know about Pembroke’s flags,” he said.
Barnes, whose husband Drew is a veteran and adjutant of AL Post 164, said she got involved because of her husband’s military service, and was then asked to take over as treasurer and secretary by longtime AL Post 164 member Ernie Mitchell, long a driving force behind the flags with fellow Vietnam Veteran B.J. Clark. This year, Barnes’ father- in-law, Robert Leamon Barnes, Jr., a veteran of the Coast Guard, was honored by a cross and flag.
In addition to painting and stenciling the crosses, once handmade by Bob Quattlebaum at his workshop on Payne Road and now built by veteran Greg Askdal, who along with Ron Kinder is on the flag committee, she handles the business end of keeping the display going.
To have a flag and cross dedicated to a veteran costs $100 with the $10 annual maintenance fee to help pay for replacement flags and the poles they fly on, as well as for upkeep of the crosses. Flags are made in the USA and purchased through Owens Supply Company to “shop local,” Barnes said. There’s also the replacement costs associated with flags and poles. But the work is the reward.
“It means a lot to me,” she said. “It’s a beautiful display, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
For Floyd, the display is a reminder of what America is about. While he sees the display as at least partly a tribute to WWII’s Greatest Generation, “the men and women who built Pembroke,” it’s also about truths called “self-evident,” in the Declaration of Independence, he said.
“There’s a lot of good people in Pembroke represented in those crosses and flags,” he said. “People from all walks of life. It doesn’t matter who they were. They all get the same size flag.”
For more information check out the Pembroke Flags Facebook page. To donate, make checks payable to the Pembroke Flag Committee, PO Box 1393, Pembroke, Ga., 31321.