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Glenbrook Dodge American flag is a true Fort Wayne landmark

The American flag flying from the Glenbrook Dodge dealership is as large as a high school basketball court. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)
From left, Ted Braselton, Doug McKibben and Mike Dennon are the three men, along with Kevin Fry, most responsible for the care of the massive American flag at Glenbook Dodge. (By Blake Sebring of News-Sentinel.com)

A couple years ago an older man walked in Glenbrook Dodge’s front door and placed three dollar bills on the receptionist’s desk.

“I want to help toward the maintenance of the flag,” the man said.

Thank you, he was informed politely, but that’s really not necessary.

“No, you don’t understand, I’m a veteran,” the man said, eyes tearing up. “I wish I could do more.”

That’s Glenbrook Dodge owner Doug McKibben’s favorite story about the Fort Wayne landmark, though every time he tells it, his are the eyes misting up.

Maybe the more cynical may believe the massive American flag riding the breeze high above Coliseum Boulevard is some kind of marketing gimmick, or because it was first raised on Oct. 13, 2001, that the monument was in response to 9/11. Actually, the real reason for it was a simple, heartfelt “Thank you.”

“Only in America can you start with nothing and build a business,” McKibben says simply. “It’s all about patriotism.”

After McKibben bought the business in 1979, within a couple of months part of the dealership’s theme included 16 American flags flying from the lot’s light poles.

For the 20th anniversary in 1999, he had the idea of flying one huge flag, but there were lots of requirements to be taken care of which pushed the official ceremony past the commemoration date. It took about 15 months to get the permits, find U.S. Flag and Flagpole in Plano, Tex. to build the pole and then to figure out all the logistics. Once the foundation was built and the materials arrived in sections, the builders needed almost two weeks to put everything together. With far more meaning and significance than McKibben and his staff ever dreamed of about a month earlier, the initial raising ceremony was held Oct. 13, 2001.

The raising was broadcast live and there were hundreds of cars parked across the street watching from Glenbook Square. Many congratulated McKibben for his quick thinking in pulling off the production so quickly after 9/11, but that was a coincidence.

Anchored by 400,000 pounds of rebar-reinforced concrete, the base is 20 by 20 feet square and six feet deep. As McKibben likes to tell school children, the base weighs as much as 200 Clydesdale horses and absolutely will not move.

  

  

That’s good because the pole definitely does move.

Reaching 232 feet into the Fort Wayne sky, the pole is 43 inches in diameter and weighs 35,600 pounds. For comparison purposes, the highest point of the Allen County Courthouse is 238 feet, Lincoln Bank Tower stretches 312 feet, Fort Wayne National Bank Building hits 339 feet and One Summit Square touches 442 feet. The Glenbrook Dodge flag can be seen from all of them.

Industrial windmills normally have a 212-foot tower and can measure 328 feet a the top of a 116-foot blade sticking straight up.

There’s a red light at the very top of the pole as the flag is a Federal Aviation Administration landmark, and it is highlighted each night by four 1,000-watt lights.

There have been a few times when Glenbrook Dodge has loaned out the flag for special ceremonies. The Komets used it for a pregame ceremony before a 2003 playoff game, and it was also used at a University of Saint Francis football game on military appreciation day.

An older flag was also donated to the World War II Museum in Auburn, and another flag was given to a national homeless veterans organization.

For 13 years, the Glenbrook Dodge flag was the nation’s tallest continuously flying flag. That changed May 22, 2014, when the Acuity Insurance Company in Wisconsin raised a 140-by-70 feet flag weighing 340 pounds on a 400-foot pole. The flagpole is located at the company’s Sheboygan, Wisc., headquarters on Interstate 43 between Green Bay and Milwaukee on Lake Michigan.

There’s also a 560-foot Jeddah Flagpole in Saudi Arabia, a 541 flagpole in Dushanbe, Tajikistan and a 531 pole in Baku, Azerbaijan. There are nine flagpoles around the world 400 feet or taller.

Besides what it represents, the Glenbrook Dodge flag itself is also something special, made of nylon, weighing 80 pounds and measuring 50 by 80 feet. Maybe appropriately for Indiana, it’s four feet short of completely covering a high school basketball court.

Besides most being 80 feet long, each stripe is four feet tall, and the stars are two feet wide.

The flags cost $4,000 each, of course, are made in America (Marion, Ind., in fact) and two are purchased each year. There are always at least three on hand — one flying, one in reserve and the other usually being repaired.

The three men entrusted with the responsibility of caring for the flag and raising and lowering it when necessary have been Mike Dennon, Ted Braselton and Kevin Fry. Dennon said it can take six-to-eight people to complete a 20-minute changeover lowering the old flag, storing it and raising a new one.

“You have to wait on the wind,” Dennon said. “Typically, I never wanted to do it in winds above 10 MPH. I’ve done it once in close to 20 MPH out of necessity.”

A few times over the years, Dennon has been knocked into cars while taking the flag down.

They tried a polyester flag once, but it didn’t last any longer and when it got wet it weighed three times more and was much more difficult to handle. That flag also didn’t spread out as effectively in the wind so they returned to using nylon.

A motorized winch controls the quarter-inch aircraft cable which is held in place by 3/16th-inch tethers replaced every two years.

“You have to wait until the wind is almost dead quiet,” McKibben said. “On a windy day, you can’t bring it down because it would take out the lights and everything.”

Eighty pounds may not sound like a lot, but the wind can great a lot of momentum to try to control.

About three minutes are needed to properly raise the flag, but sometimes the material gets wrapped around the pole and lowering requires more patience.

“Usually, by the time you know a storm is coming, it’s already too windy to bring it down,” Dennon said. “One time, I had enough notice to take it down, but the fire department came out and was ready to close Coliseum Boulevard because the pole was doing a pendulum. It had to be swinging 60, 80 feet in each direction. I’m on the phone with the guy who put it up, and I had to assure them it was not going to come down. We never did that again. With the flag on it, it pulls the pole steady so it doesn’t do that.”

Flags can last as long as a month in great weather or as short as two days in rough winds. During nasty winter weather, a flag may need to be replaced within three or four days.

Though it’s a safety issue when to replace a flag, interested onlookers will often scold the dealership when it starts to fray, demanding it is replaced immediately according to proper protocol.

“We get lots of calls saying, `Don’t you know not to fly a tattered flag?’ ” McKibben said. “Oh, we totally know and we’ve got another flag there ready to put up, but we have to wait until Mother Nature allows us.”

As part of her duties as the dealership’s social media director, Candace Long is usually the person responsible for responding to comments about the flag.

“A lot of people take pride in the flag, especially veterans,” she said. “We get a lot of good responses on great days when it’s really nice and when the flag is intact, perfect and it’s sunny out. Sometimes when it rains and it gets cold and the flag is wet, it freezes and breaks off. There’s not much we can do until the weather conditions calm down and we can safely bring it down with employees. Sometimes we get a little negative feedback on that part.”

There are at least six times a year when Braselton lowers the flag to half-mast.

Those ceremonial days are Memorial Day (from sunrise until noon), Peace Officers Memorial Day on May 15, Patriot Day on Sept. 11, National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Day (first Sunday in October), National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day on Dec. 7, to commemorate the death of a president, vice president and other significant public servants and whenever directed by the President.

Typically, the business receives calls asking why the flag is at half mast on Peace Officers Memorial Day and National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Day.

When a flag is too distressed to repair, it is given to a local Boy Scouts troop for a proper retirement ceremony.

“The changeover is pretty intense, and it gives you goosebumps,” Long said. “They have a lot of respect during the changing of it. It’s pretty cool.”

It’s not an honor guard, but there’s a lot of honor in being asked to care for the flag.

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