South Alabama vet has the last American flag flown at Vietnam's Da Nang Airfield as troops departed for the final time on March 27, 1973
While Flag Day isn't observed as an official federal holiday, that doesn't mean its significance is lost, especially for veterans.
Retired U.S. Army Aviation Lt. Col. Ollie "Sonny" Craddock, for instance, has held onto a special flag for more than 37 years.
As commander of the 1st Aviation Brigade, 11th Combat Aviation Group, 62nd Aviation Company, or the Royal Coachman, Craddock happened to be making a final tour of the base when he saw the flag flying high thatday.
"We were the last unit in Military Region 1," said Craddock, who now resides in Newton. "I had my jeep, and as the commander, I was the last to leave the compound. I just did a pass-through, because I felt I wanted to drive around and check things out. As I drove around, I saw this flag still flying (above the officers' quarters), and I said, I'm not leaving that here.'"
Craddock took the flag down and began the cumbersome process of folding it.
"It's hard to fold a flag yourself," he said. "I finally got it folded, and it's folded kind of rough, (but) I never unfolded it in all these years. I've never cased it."
For him, taking the flag was an easy decision because of its symbolism.
"It didn't belong there," said Craddock, who attanded flight school at Fort Rucker. "Da Nang was no longer ours, and the flag represents us. I don't think it was supposed to be (left), I think it was just an oversight. It needed to go home with us."
While American flags are flown in lawns and at sporting events, they have increased meaning to the men and women who have fought for the country.
"When you have served in combat, I think you have a different appreciation for it," Craddock said. "My wife and I got a flagpole as a gift to ourselves a few years ago. The first thing you see at this house is that flagflying high. How pretty is that sucker? And I don't fly a little one, I fly a big one."
As for his historic flag, Craddock plans to have it put in a case and given the prestige it deserves.
"I need to case it and get all the proper documentation, which I can easily do," he said. "It's part of history."