Brand-new U.S. flags now fly proudly above the ramparts of the largest fort ever built in America, the result of an initiative by The American Legion Department of Rhode Island.
Fort Adams, located in Newport, R.I., was built to defend the Narragansett Bay from invaders, thereby denying them the ability to launch land attacks against the cities of Washington, New York and Boston. Completed in 1857, the fort remained active until 1950 and was used for five wars as the command and control center for Army defenses from Long Island, N.Y., to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.
About three years ago, Rhode Island Department Adjutant Gene Pytka met with representatives of the Fort Adams Trust. He learned that the fort, although declared a national historic landmark in 1976, was ineligible for federal funding because no battle had ever been fought there. Impressed by what the trustees were doing to improve the fort with public donations and a small state grant, Pytka was "also dismayed because their U.S. flag was tattered, and they didn’t have the funds to buy another one," he said. "The first thing we did was put a new flag (at the fort)."
The Department of Rhode Island donated two 12-by-18 U.S. flags to Fort Adams, as well as an 8-by-12 flag that flies at the top of a 100-foot flagpole. At the foot of the flagpole is a stone marker with the Legion emblem that reads, "This flag donated by American Legion of Rhode Island." Pytka said providing Fort Adams with U.S. flags has become a permanent part of the department’s annual budget.
"Some of the larger flags that we fly are very expensive," said Rick Nagele, executive director of the Fort Adams Trust. "In this part of the world, they take a beating, and so it’s a significant program that the Legion does for us. In addition, they (the Department of Rhode Island) have some events here that they’ve put together, and funding from those goes to benefit the trust. And they’ve made a cash donation from their coffers as well to try to help us protect and preserve this national historic landmark."
Lenny Reed, past department commander, would like to see even more Legion-sponsored events at Fort Adams. "It’s a great way to get Legionnaires from all over Rhode Island together, and it also lets the public know that The American Legion is here, caring for our fort and making sure it has flags to fly that are in good condition." Reed said he recently took part in a Boys State function at the fort, where high school students learned how to fold a U.S. flag properly.
American Legion Past National Commander Richard Santos from the Department of Delaware, who recently visited the fort, said, "A lot of people think money is the key asset, but in all (Legion) departments it’s the members who are the key asset. When you get Legion membership involved with a national monument such as Fort Adams, it gives them a sense of pride, and it’s a very important thing for them to accomplish. It really puts the Legion out in front of the community, and that’s a source of pride for any Legion member."