Bob Paape took good care of his U.S. flag.
He made sure it was flying high on beautiful days and took it down in rain and storms. He even had lights shining on it from several angles so people could always see his reverence for the red, white and blue.
The 90-year-old World War II veteran was shocked when someone took the flag and its pole down from the side of his Christiana Street home about two weeks ago. He wasn’t home at the time, but neighbors said the person — who may have indulged in more than a few adult beverages — removed the flag and dropped it on the ground, then walked away with one of the lights and the pole.
The theft was upsetting, but Bob was even more angry that the thief stomped on the flag, according to witnesses. Bob said he had no interest in replacing the pole and risking another theft.
Bob attended East High School and was a football and track star, earning the nickname “Sophomore Sensation,” he said. He joined the U.S. Navy as a senior in high school and received his diploma early so he could start his service in 1942.
He served on submarine chaser PC 555, mostly transporting the wounded to a medical ship.
“You’d see them lined up” nearly the length of the boat, Bob said. But he doesn’t consider himself a hero. “The ones who died, they are the real heroes.”
His family calls him a hero. And he remembers war stories like they happened yesterday.
“The fact that he went through all that and he survived, then to have someone come into his yard and throw down the flag into the grass is really sad,” Bob’s daughter Sue Rolain said. “It stinks.”
After the war, Bob returned the area, working for brief time for a lumber company in Menominee, Mich. He eventually returned to Green Bay, married his wife, Evelyn, who is deceased, and raised seven children. He still lives in the house they bought from her family in the 1960s.
There are lots of nice neighbors who look out for Bob, his daughter said. Bob now has locks on his fence so strangers can’t so easily wander in.
And in a few weeks, he will have a new U.S. flag that should be almost impossible to steal.
When his grandson heard the news, he knew just who to contact for help. His buddy, staff Sgt. William Kockenof the Wisconsin Army National Guard’s 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry, put the wheels in motion to replace the flag.
Kocken is vice president of the nonprofit, Fourth HOOAH WI.
The Wisconsin HOOAH chapter began in 2013, and it’s the fourth state with such a chapter. The national organzation started in 2011.
The group started with the goal of helping special operations servicemen overseas. As wars wind down, the group is reaching out to help soldiers who are currently serving as well as veterans. It is run by volunteers, and 90 percent of funds raised by the Wisconsin group stays in the state.
HOOAH members instantly supported the idea of supplying a new flag and pole for Bob, Kocken said.
U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Sherwood, offered to donate the flag, he said. HOOAH will provide the supplies and help build the flag pole. It will be sunk five feet into the ground and surrounded by concrete. It will reach up 15 feet, and a lock box will surround the pulley system used to raise or lower the flag.
“Someone would have to come up with a plan to steal this,” Kocken said. The gift is personal for him.
“Me being a soldier, and him being a sailor, you have so much pride in the American colors,” he said. “It’s an emotional trigger for me.
“Everybody loves the idea. The further you go back in history, the cooler the vet you get. It’s amazing what they did. When we get the chance to help one of these people, it’s a no-brainer. This is the most rewarding person I get to serve since the charity started.”
Bob is so pleased he says he may have to stand and salute his extra-special new flag every day once it’s installed.
As he said this, he raised his hand to his forehead, saluted and smiled.
— firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @PGPattiZarling
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