Paying tribute to fallen soldiers and their families can be hard to do, but an Illinois man has created a simple and touching gesture. Now he's doing it for Indiana National Guard Spc. Nicholas Taylor, 20, of Berne, who was killed earlier this month on his tour in Afghanistan.
Larry Eckhardt has no military affiliation or connection but travels around the United States putting up 2,200 full-sized American flags as a way to pay tribute to fallen heroes. These flags are put in the ground along the funeral procession route to honor the soldier. It is also a way for the community to show their support to the family.
“We have to get this family taken care of,” Eckhardt said. “A lot of people in town care, but how do you show you care? They can only handle so much food. This is another way of saying, 'Hey, we care, thank you very much.' It's just the best we can do, to be truthful.”
Taylor is the son of Berne Police Chief Tim Taylor and his wife, Stephania , and is also has a brother and two sisters among this survivors. The South Adams High School graduate and another Indiana National Guardsman were killed July 16 in Wali Kot District, Kandahar, when their vehicle was struck by an enemy rocket-propelled grenade, Defense Department officials said.
Eckhardt has no connection to the military or the family, other than his never-failing devotion to the soldiers and their cause. He has done this 94 times and traveled as far as 600 miles to do so, free of charge. He does appreciate the help of donations and volunteer efforts, though.
“Basically the people in the towns will donate. That's the way it works out in most towns, one person will step forward and kind of coordinate and it works out pretty good that way. I can't do it on my own,” Eckhardt said.
People in a community suffering a loss always appreciate gestures concern, including those in Berne.
“(Nick was) just a good guy… a handsome, good looking, brave soldier,” said Susan Jones, a family friend.
More than 100 volunteers came to help put the flags in the ground Saturday afternoon, including families, children and teenagers. It can be difficult to organize volunteers while still keeping them safe. For each truck and group of people placing flags in the ground, a police car was behind or in front of them to warn oncoming traffic.
“It's utter chaos; (but) if you can stand back and watch… really it makes sense what we're doing,” Eckhardt said. “What's going to be amazing is when we're done is seeing everything, and that's what I stress, that you drive it. It's absolutely breath-taking.”
The flags will remain standing until after Taylor's funeral at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the South Adams High School gymnasium. At about 3 p.m. Tuesday, Eckhardt will ask volunteers to meet him in the school parking lot to take down the flags.