Imagine a sparkling lake, surrounded by rolling hills dotted with red, white, and blue flags flapping in the gentle breeze. Picture a three-year-old boy with a miniature flag, running beside the patriotic spectacle…or a high school senior in cap and gown, smiling proudly for her picture-taking mom in front of the colorful backdrop. Now, imagine an Army veteran, dressed in a beret and fatigues, leaning on his cane for support in his slow, deliberate walk among the sea of American flags.

These and other heartwarming sights are the reason my anticipation builds each year as Memorial Day approaches. As a 25-year member of Bakersfield Breakfast Rotary Club, this event – Thousand Flags – is my immediate answer when I’m asked, “What’s your favorite club event?” In fact, this is the event that took my Rotary commitment to a whole new level.

As Rotary clubs in the United States consider how to connect people across the generations in order to serve, impact, and improve our communities and our world, Bakersfield Breakfast Rotary Club hit the jackpot in 2014 when we introduced Thousand Flags. The three-day event honors military heroes who have fallen in the line of service (consistent with Memorial Day’s traditional purpose), and also salutes all current and past members of the military, and local first-responders as well.

High school students work on posting flags for the event.

When Rotarian Becky Brooks approached Breakfast Rotary about the possibility of creating the project, club members were intrigued. But they knew an undertaking of this magnitude would require a lot of planning and many volunteers. Brooks knew it was possible, especially considering our community’s commitment to honoring those who serve. She was right.

Rotarians, high school clubs, cub scout troops, football teams, and even an occasional passerby will spend the first morning of their three-day weekend posting flags in spots carefully selected and marked by a crew of professional surveyors that volunteer for the event.

I especially enjoy the early part of that first day, where small teams – people of all ages and backgrounds – move quickly to complete the project in time for an 11:30 a.m. opening. The conversations are unpredictable! I’ve overheard talk about the weather, the last day of school, college plans.One time I heard a Coast Guard veteran ask a Marine vet “how many people are in a Marine platoon, anyway?” People are brought together at Thousand Flags. They are brought together by Rotary!

When the large center flag is lowered at dusk each evening, a quiet crowd gathers to hear the playing of taps and to watch the high school color guard fold the flag and present it to our club president.

At the end of Monday’s ceremonies, which feature patriotic music and local speakers, many attendees will walk away with a folded flag that they have sponsored in honor of someone they love.

This Memorial Day, Bakersfield Breakfast Rotary Club will celebrate the 5th Annual presentation of Thousand Flags. I can’t wait to see what kinds of connections are made this year!

Which project or Rotary experience took your commitment to a new level?

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