True to the red, white and blue

 

Eli Valenzula secures an American flag to the fence of the crossover near the Dover Air Force Base main gate on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — There’s just something about the red, white and blue colors of the American flag and what they combine to symbolize that has always brought out tremendous pride for Eli Valenzuela.

HOW TO DISPLAY FLAGS
• Traditional guidelines call for displaying the flag in public only from sunrise to sunset. However, the flag may be displayed at all times if it’s illuminated during darkness.
• The flag should not be subject to weather damage, so it should not be displayed during rain, snow and wind storms unless it is an all-weather flag.
It should be displayed often, but especially on national and state holidays and special occasions.
• The flag should be displayed on or near the main building of public institutions, schools during school days and polling places on election days. It should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
• The flag should never be draped or drawn back in folds. Draped red, white and blue bunting should be used for decoration, with the blue at the top and red at the bottom.
• The flag may be flown at half-staff to honor a newly deceased federal or state government official by order of the president or the governor, respectively.
• On Memorial Day, the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon.

That’s why since 9/11, Mr. Valenzuela has done whatever he can to bring honor to the flag, which he believes was one of the key ingredients that helped bring the nation together in the wake of those unforgettable tragedies.

It’s why today’s annual celebration of Flag Day remains so important to him.

“It’s a time to stop and look at the symbol of freedom, because that’s really what it is,” Mr. Valenzuela said.

He added that he isn’t out looking for accolades when he places an American flag somewhere, such as on both the northbound and southbound fences atop the Old Lebanon Road overpass that crosses Del. 1 and serves the main gate of Dover Air Force Base.

This is just something that has been deeply instilled in Mr. Valenzuela, he says. He wants people to realize what that flag represents — freedom.

“When 9/11 happened it hit me right in the heart,” said Mr. Valenzuela, president and CEO of First State Manufacturing Inc. in Milford. “I knew that I had to do something because the whole country came together after that.

“It’s funny how, after a while, everything just kind of fades away and then we’re killers and murderers and stuff like that. Well, hopefully, something like this kind of switches the tables around a little bit.”

He still vividly recalls Sept. 12, 2001, when he bought two American flags and had his FSM employees sew grommets around their edges before he went out and hung them on the overpass near the air base.

It was the start of what he calls “a lifetime tradition.”

It’s about family and country

People might not recognize the handy work of Mr. Valenzuela, who places American flags all around Kent and Sussex counties and even supplies the flag that flies on the pole as visitors enter Broadkill Beach.

He’s not out seeking credit. It’s just something he enjoys doing with his family and for the love of the country.

Eli Valenzula secures an American flag to the fence of the crossover near the DAFB main gate on Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

This time, on a hot and humid Tuesday morning, Mr. Valenzuela had his 10-year-old granddaughter, Mia Littlejohn, lending a hand as he made sure the flags near the Air Base were tightly secured.

“It’s just patriotic and I think it’s important that most of the time I come and do this I bring my kids with me,” he said. “It’s important that they see patriotism, the love of our country and the love of our flag.

“My sons, Pedro and Simon, usually go out with me, especially when I have a big flag. I have a big one that you have to put it on the other side (of the overpass fence). You have to climb up a ladder and reach over the side and that’s not a very safe job, but it’s worth it.”

Mr. Valenzuela doesn’t know exactly how many American flags he has put up since 9/11 but said that over that time period, his company has spent at least $2,000 on replacement flags.

“I change them out about every two or three months when they start getting faded out or tattered with the wind and I retire them properly at my house,” he said.

Patriotic background

It’s no surprise that Mr. Valenzuela is so patriotic. After all, he is a veteran of the U.S. Army and many of First State Manufacturing’s biggest contracts are with the military.

First State Manufacturing, which he founded, provides top-quality airplane seats, cushions, covers, carpeting and upholstery for C-5, C-17 and C-130 cargo planes, F-16 fighter jets and V-22 Osprey helicopters, among other aircraft.

Sher Valenzuela, Eli’s wife, said it is that closeness he has developed through all of his experiences with the armed forces that actually even opened her eyes.

“Eli’s dedication has increased my awareness of how many sacrifices our men and women in uniform make,” she said. “We take it for granted how great this country is … and this flag represents everything that has made it great and will keep it great.”

Not everyone’s a fan

Unfortunately, Mr. Valenzuela said, not everyone shares his appreciation and respect for the American flag.

HOW TO PROPERLY RETIRE A FLAG
• When an American flag becomes worn, faded, torn or soiled, it should be retired and replaced with a new flag. There are several ways to respectfully dispose of the American flag without showing disgrace. The most common method is burning the torn or tattered flag in a special ceremony.
• The Veterans Department of Affairs suggests starting by folding the flag in a customary triangle manner. Then prepare a large enough fire space to sufficiently burn the flag completely.
• Next, place the flag in the fire and while it burns, individuals at the ceremony should salute or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Finally, end the ceremony with a moment of silence and bury the ashes once the flag is completely consumed.

“Here, when I’m putting the flags up a lot of times people will honk and give us the thumbs up, but a lot of times other people will yell at me, ‘Get that (expletive) thing out of here!,” he said.

“So it’s kind of divided. It’s mostly positive, but there are some hard heads out there.”

It’s those so-called hard heads that drive Mr. Valenzuela’s passion even further, pointing to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking a knee before NFL games last season during the National Anthem and not showing respect to the American flag.

“That really did something to me,” Mr. Valenzuela said. “I don’t understand it. If they don’t like it then why don’t they just leave? Be peaceful about it and pack their stuff and go back to wherever they came from or wherever else they want to be.”

He added that a couple of weeks spent in another country might just change their minds about the freedoms that Americans enjoy.

Keeping up with tradition

Mr. Valenzuela isn’t always so vocal when it comes to the American flag and freedom.

He has also been known to do a mime act where he paints his face like the American flag and mimes out a performance to the Lee Greenwood song, “I’m Proud to be an American,” in honor of the United States military.”

Granddaughter Mia Littlejohn was certainly proud of Mr. Valenzuela as they made sure all of the flags were ready for Flag Day.

They even put a couple of more flags up later in the day on Tuesday on the overpass at the Thompsonville Road exit a few miles north of Milford.

That’s a perfect place, Mr. Valenzuela said, considering Milford is hometown for both his family and his business. That overpass draws the eyes of tons of beachbound traffic in the summer.

Mia Littlejohn said she wants this tradition to continue.

“The American flag is a symbol of freedom,” said Mia, who will turn 11 on June 21. “I’d like to keep putting some of these flags up myself when I get older. It’s an important symbol for our country.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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