Being from an Illinois town of with a population of 364, Larry “The Flagman” Eckhardt knows a thing or two about small towns. He said that, and the fact that he’s coming to a celebration rather than a tribute for a fallen solider, is why he’s looking forward to his November visit to Bainbridge.
On Nov. 2-5, RFD-TV’s “The Best of America by Horseback” will conduct activities that will culminate in taping two Christmas shows at The Paxton Theatre on Nov. 4 and 5, honoring the military and veterans. Included will be a 2 p.m. parade on Saturday, Nov. 4, and that’s why Eckhardt will be there.
Eckhardt said he will be bringing at least 800 of his collection of more than 3,000 flags with him to line the Bainbridge parade route.
“These small towns don’t normally see that many flags and as long as pictures go up on Facebook and elsewhere, those people are going to be remembered,” Eckhardt said. “That’s my whole goal. Without these young men and woman and patrolmen that we try to honor, our lives would be completely different. I try to make sure that people are aware of the fact of what we are doing and that they know those people should be honored.”
Although 1,000 of his flags were donated to him by a group from St. Louis where he was putting on one of his displays, Eckhardt does not profit from his tributes and does not ask for money. But Tim Koehl, the owner of the Paxton Theatre who is organizing the Bainbridge celebration, said he’s looking for a sponsor interested in helping cover the costs of a place for Eckhardt to stay and maybe some of his expenses.
“He was going to come over and do all of this for nothing,” Koehl said.
Eckhardt said Koehl has been one of his supporters for quite a while.
“He called me, he appreciates the military, and I’m just thankful he does what he does for them,” Eckhardt said of Koehl and his reasons for deciding to visit Bainbridge. “To be truthful, I love Ohio. I did one tribute there and it turned out tremendous. It’s always fantastic to be doing something like this because it’s a celebration of the military and not paying tribute to a fallen solider.”
Eckhardt will be traveling to Bainbridge from his home in Little York, Illinois. He said he has presented his display at about 14 funerals so far this year, but will be especially busy around the time he comes to Bainbridge because he is scheduled to do Veterans Day displays in five different communities.
Through Facebook and local media, he usually asks for help from veterans groups or other volunteers and said that over the years his volunteers have helped him put up more than 492,000 flags. He said the longest route he’s ever done was 46 miles long.
It all started for Eckhardt about 13 years ago.
“I went to a funeral for a Navy guy in my local area. There were probably 2,000 people there to welcome him home. I looked around and there were probably not 100 flags and I said, ‘this just isn’t right,’” Eckhardt said.
He said he’s still in the planning stages for the Bainbridge celebration and is not sure exactly what kind of display he will set up.
The Flagman said he tries to cover a 14-state area, from locations near the Canadian border, out to Kansas, and as far east as Ohio. He never served in the military and there are no veterans in his family.
“This is my way of saying thanks,” Eckhardt said.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.