Amid snow, freezing rain and sleet, artist Scott LoBaido kicked off a 50-state veteran celebration a few weeks ago by painting Old Glory on the side of American Legion Post 202 in Fayetteville, N.C.
“I’m just giving veterans a little thank you,” LoBaido explains of his tour, which involves painting the American flag on the side of an American Legion or a VFW post in all 50 states during the next six months. “I want to bring attention to this awesome group of people and let the population know they need to support these men and women.”
The tour began with Post 202 in Fayetteville on Feb. 21 and ends at American Legion Post 139 in Arlington, Va., in late August. LoBaido will use an estimated 600 gallons of paint – supplied by Home Depot and Behr Paint, two of the tour sponsors.
As to the weather, which immediately put him behind schedule? “This is going to be an issue here and there,” LoBaido says. “Veterans fought in it. I can paint in it.”
LoBaido hails from Staten Island, N.Y., where he remembers his grandmother always flying the American flag. Although he has never been in the military, he comes from a family of veterans. LoBaido’s grandfather served in the Navy during World War II. Two uncles served in Vietnam.
About 25 years ago, LoBaido had a revelation that put him on the path to becoming one of the nation’s most celebrated flag artists. “It hit me that these guys sacrificed their lives for me to be as free as I can as an artist,” he says. “And the American flag is the greatest, most beautiful, most powerful work of art.”
LoBaido’s painted his first flag mural on the now-defunct Victory Diner in Staten Island in the early 1980s. His giant flag artwork was a little controversial at the time. “People said it’s pro-war,” LoBaido says. “I said, ‘Whoa – I’m trying to educate people, to bring people to fall back in love with that flag and what it represents.’”
He set out on his first cross-county tour in 2006, painting the American flag on the roof of a building in each of the 50 states. He selected buildings with slanted roofs so the American flag could be seen from the road or from the air, a way of saying “Godspeed” to servicemembers who were headed for the Global War on Terror, and “welcome home” to those returning from battle. Four years later, he painted the world’s largest American flag on the roof of the Lamons Gasket Co. warehouse, near Hobby Airport in Houston, Texas. The 300-foot by 500-foot rendition of Old Glory was completed between June 14 – Flag Day – and the Fourth of July and required 900 gallons of paint.
LoBaido logged another 25,000 miles on a 2011 expedition to retouch the flags he painted five years earlier. Now Legion and VFW posts are his canvas because “they house the most important people in the world,” he says. LoBaido selected the location for his painting in each state based on their street visibility and the availability of a nice flat wall suitable for a painting of Old Glory.
The fourth American flag mural in this year’s tour was dedicated at VFW Post 3270 in Jacksonville, Fla., on March 4. His next stop is Mobile, Ala. And there’s plenty of grateful servicemembers along the way.
“To us, it’s a reward,” says George C. Cade, commander of American Legion Post 202. “Not only to the post – but to the entire veterans community.”