Inspirational Stories

October 22, 2021

Old Man Buys $5 Flag at Garage Sale, Notices the Writing on the Stripes and Seeks the Owner — Story of the Day

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A veteran who bought an old flag at a yard sale felt compelled to drive halfway around the country to give it back to its rightful owner.

Douglas Sanders considered himself a happy man most of the time, except when he had to accompany his wife Debbie to yard sales, street markets, or antique fairs.

The truth is that Debbie was a junkie, and Douglas was happiest in his man cave doing what a man ought to do in his man cave-- bad woodwork and reminiscing over old times. But one day Douglas saw something extraordinary at a yard sale, and it changed his mind.

Douglas Sanders never imagined finding such a treasure in a yard sale | Source: Shutterstock.com

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Douglas and Debbie had spent most of their 35 years together moving around to whichever base he was transferred to. In a way, Debbie's fascination with other people's memories of ordinary life made sense.

Debbie had lived all over the world as the wife of a Navy Seal officer, and so her life had been anything but ordinary. Not exciting either, just extremely stressful. While Debbie stayed home and raised the kids, her heart jumped every time someone knocked on the door.

As a military wife, Debbie knew it could be someone official delivering bitter news in a respectful tone, thanking her for her sacrifice for her country... Now that Douglas was retired, Debbie had finally confessed how much she hated the Navy.

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"Douglas, you have no idea how much I hated that blasted Star-Spangled Banner, how frightened I was every time you went on a mission, and I received a letter from you with half of the writing blacked out."

"You never said..." cried Douglas, appalled. "You were always so supportive!"

Douglas had spent his career serving his country around the world | Source: Pixabay

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"Well, Douglas," said Debbie. " Army wives and army mothers -- we all hate war, we all hate the army, or the navy or the airforce, but it's part of loving you, so we put up with it."

And so, even though Douglas hated yard sales, street markets, and antique fairs, he went along and oohed at the appropriate moments, because that is what you do when you love someone. You embrace their passions, just like Debbie had embraced the Navy.

That particular day, one of their neighbors from three streets over, Jim Kanaro, who had just moved in, decided to empty out the attic and the garage which the old owners had left chock-a-block with junk.

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Oh, it was a glorious day for Debbie! There were tables covered in trays of glittering trash which promised to turn into treasure, and Douglas saw his wife's eyes glaze over.

"Look Douglas," she gasped. "It's real Carnival glass from the early 20s, do you see that red base tone? It's real Iridill!"

Now that he was retired he accompanied his wife in her hobbies | Source: Unsplash

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Douglas widened his eyes and nodded, even though he glimpsed a tiny gold sticker at the base that read, "Made in Taiwan." While Debbie bargained over the vase with Jim, Douglas surreptitiously scrapped off the 'Made in Taiwan' sticker. It was little enough to do to make his Debbie happy.

It was then that Douglas's eye was caught by a wadded striped mound of fabric. Something about the texture and the shades of red and white tugged at his memory.

Whatever it was it was caught under an old suitcase, and when Douglas tugged it free he was stunned to see it was an American flag. Reverently stroking the fabric smooth, Douglas noticed something peculiar. There seemed to be writing on the stripes, written in different handwritings.

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Douglas realized what he was holding. This was a tribute flag, the flag that usually covers a coffin at a military funeral. After the ceremony is over, the flag is carefully folded and handed to the fallen serviceman's next of kin at the graveside. That flag was meant to be the man's memorial, a tribute to his service and his courage.

There was nothing that Debbie loved more than a yard sale | Source: Unsplash

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It was outrageous that such a treasure should be bundled under an old rotted cardboard suitcase in a yard sale in New Jersey! "Jim!" cried Douglas. "How much for the flag?"

"Five dollars!" Jim replied, and turned back to talk to another woman who was trying to drive down the price of a huge hat covered in wax fruit. Douglas walked up to Jim and tugged a $5 in his breast pocket. Then he folded the flag as best as he could and went looking for Debbie.

"Douglas," she gasped. "What's happened?"

"I...I bought something, Debs," Douglas admitted. "If you're finished here, let's go home."

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Back at their place, Douglas reverently spread out the flag that had once covered a hero's coffin over their dinner table, and he and Debbie tried to decipher the messages penned by the man's friends.

Under an old suitcase Douglas found a flag | Source: Pixabay

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"You took that bullet for me in Mosul, Hal. Love you man."

"When the world fell apart, you kept us together. I'll never forget you Hal Bartlett."

Message after message spoke of their admiration and gratitude for Hal Bartlett, a man who had obviously lost his life in Iraq in 2006 and had died saving his team's life.

"This," Douglas said to Debbie with tears in his eyes. "This is precious! This should be with Bartlett family, it should be treasured."

Debbie nodded. "I was always afraid I'd get one of those handed to me, folded into a little triangle, but not to have it would have been worse. Listen..."

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The flag had been signed by the fallen hero's friends | Source: Pexels

"Yes?" asked Douglas, because a light he knew well was glittering in Debbie's green eyes. 

"Don't you still have some friends in the Navy? Or in the VA?" Debbie asked.

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"Sure," said Douglas. "Why?"

An old ragged flag in a yard sale turned out to be a precious memento of a fallen hero.

"Well, we have this guy's name and the year he died, maybe we could find his family, give them the flag!"

Douglas crossed the dining room in a single leap and swept Debbie up in his arms. He kissed her passionately. "I love you, woman." he growled. "You don't know how much I love you!"

The flag had once covered a soldier's coffin | Source: Pexels

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It took a while, some phone calls, and a few emails, but finally, Douglas tracked down Marine Corps Sargeant Henry Bartlett's parents who were living in Utah. Douglas sat there with the address in Layton, Utah in his hands.

"Hey Debbie!" he called to his wife. "Have you ever been to Utah?"

"Utah?" asked Debbie frowning, "No! Have you?"

"Nope," said Douglas. "But I think I'd like to go. I know it's over 2000 miles, but that boy traveled a lot further to serve his country. So I was thinking..."

"A road trip!" cried Debbie. "Just like we did for our honeymoon!"

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The flag should be with the soldier's family not at a yard sale | Source: Pixabay

"Yes," said Douglas. "Somehow putting this flag in the mail or FedExing it over seems disrespectful."

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"I like the idea, Douglas." said Debbie. "But you'd better write to the Bartletts, make sure they want us to come."

So Douglas sent out a letter explaining that they had found Marine Corps Sargeant Henry Bartlett's flag and that they wanted to return it to his family. Would it be alright if they dropped by sometime?

They received a letter signed by a Mr. Udell Bartlett telling them that they would be very welcome, so a few days later Douglas and Debbie packed up their bags and hit the road.

They decided to take it easy and stop off along the way, so they arrived in Layton four days later. They drove into the town and asked for directions to the address they had been given.

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Douglas contacted some old friends in the military | Source: Unsplash

They drove out to the outskirts of the small city before they found the house. Douglas stopped, took a deep breath, and said, "Well, we're here! I hope we will be welcomed."

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Debbie and Douglas walked up to the door and rang the bell. Douglas was carrying the flag carefully folded over his arm. A tall sad-looking man opened the door. 

"I'm Douglas Sanders," Douglas said. "I wrote to you a few weeks back?"

"Oh, yes!" the man cried. "You found Hal's flag!" The man turned back into the house and called, "Martha! It's those people from New York!"

Debbie cleared her throat. "We're from New Jersey, actually," she said. But no one was listening to her because a tiny woman was running towards Douglas with tears in her eyes and Douglas was tenderly placing the flag in her hands.

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Douglas and Debbie decided to drive to Utah to give Hal's parents the flag | Source: Pexels

Martha was weeping. "Oh my boy, my boy!" Her husband had his arm around her, comforting her. She looked up at Douglas. "You don't know what this means to us!"

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"I do," said Douglas quietly. "That's why I'm here."

"They gave the flag to my Hal's wife," Martha explained. "And she kept it. It was supposed to be for our grandson Roary, but three years later she dropped Roary off with us and vanished." 

Udell sighed. "Roary was just two when Hal died, so all he has of his dad are our memories."

Martha pressed the flag against her faded cheek. "Now he has something else, something real that proves his daddy was a hero."

Martha was comforted by Douglas and Debbie's kindness | Source: Unsplash

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"Ma'am," Douglas said kindly. "As well as finding you and your husband I managed to track down most of the men who signed this flag, and I think that if you reached out to them they would be willing to come to Roary, and talk about his dad."

That evening, Debbie and Douglas had dinner with the Bartletts and met Hal's son Roary who was now seventeen. Roary was stunned by the journey his dad's flag had made across America.

Douglas knew it had all been worthwhile when Martha leaned over the table and took his hand. "Thank you," she whispered, "for bringing me my boy back."

What can we learn from this story?

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  • One man's trash is another man's treasure. An old ragged flag in a yard sale turned out to be a precious memento of a fallen hero and brought comfort and hope to his grieving family.
  • The memories our loved ones have of us are our monuments. Long ago, Egyptian Pharaohs built stone pyramids, but we build eternal memorials for our loved ones by loving them and honoring their memories.

Share this story with your friends. It might brighten their day and inspire them. 

If you enjoyed this story, you might like this one about two children who beg outside a shopping mall in order to help their mother.

This account is inspired by our reader’s story and written by a professional writer. Any resemblance to actual names or locations is purely coincidental. All images are for illustration purposes only. Share your story with us; maybe it will change someone’s life. If you would like to share your story, please send it to info@amomama.com

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