Iowa Legion Riders chapter to present flags to aging veterans ‘before they pass’

Iowa Legion Riders chapter to present flags to aging veterans ‘before they pass’

In late February, the Iowa Northwest chapter of American Legion Riders, which is based out of American Legion Post 241 in LeMars, officially launched its Mission: Flags for Vets program. The program will provide veterans living in the area’s nursing homes and assisted-living facilities with folded U.S. flags, as well as care packages.

By the end of the meeting, $2,200 had been donated to get the program off the ground once the weather warms up and the riding season kicks off. The idea came from Rider Thad Hawkins, who shared it with the chapter’s Ride Mission Captain Chad Poeckes.

Poeckes, a member of Sons of The American Legion Squadron 241, said the immediate generosity caused him to be “kind of thrown back. There’s been some ideas that have been shot down, but common sense applies sometimes. But I talked to everybody about it, talked to the officers about it, and everyone thought it was a perfect idea and a great idea for around here. So, we thought, ‘Let’s push this as hard as we can and see where we can go with it.’”

But the program also resonates with him personally because of his father, a U.S. Army veteran. “When Thad ended up coming to me with the idea … I just thought, ‘This would be pretty cool. Let me see what I can do,’” Poeckes said. “So, we started running with it a little bit and brainstorming and going back and forth. But I had my dad in the back of my head. The whole deal of I want him to have this flag before he passes.

“That’s what sparked it up more to push harder on this. Because my dad’s health isn’t doing well, either. So, I really want to get this thing going before that time comes.”

Poeckes said his philosophy on why the chapter should take on the project is pretty cut and dry. “The one thing that I keep bringing up is why should the veteran wait until they pass before they get the flag? It’s a true statement,” he said. “When the vet passes, that’s when they get their flag. But do they really get their flag? No, the family does. So that’s where we came up with the idea of no, they should receive their flag before they die, so they can hold it, see and know that they’re appreciated before they pass.”

In addition to the flag, recipients also will be given a care package that includes a personalized dog tag, a 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline wristband and a personal thank you card from whichever Riders are participating in that day’s delivery of the flag. And once a Rider has participated in delivery four flags, he or she will be presented the official “Mission: Flags for Vets” patch for their Riders vest.

Poeckes said a peripheral goal of the project is to raise awareness about the American Legion Riders. “We’re not looking for the pat on the back,” he said. “That’s not the ‘why’ for what we’re doing. But the recognition will be out there for what the American Legion Riders actually do.”

Poeckes also said joining the Sons and the Riders has given him a new perception on The American Legion as a whole. “Before I joined, I didn’t know what The American Legion was,” he said. “Once I joined, to see the unity in the people of all different ages, it was really awesome. And since then, I’ve gotten another 22 Riders to join up. And it just keeps growing.”