Marine returns flag Harrodsburg veteran sent to him in Afghanistan

July 09, 2004|JULIE McGLOTHLIN

The letter began, "You don't know me and I don't know you, even though we are brothers: I am a Marine and you are also a Marine."

Tom Denny, of Harrodsburg, a retired Marine, sent this letter to Lt. Jim Fisher, who is serving in Bagram, Afghanistan. With the letter, he sent a flag that is nearly 50 years old.

The flag was purchased in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1955 as Denny was headed overseas. "Most of the Marines that I knew, when they went into a hostile place, most all of them carried a flag, thinking they'd get to hang it up someplace," he says. Denny took the old red, white and blue with him thinking that he would do the same.

Between 1955 and 1959, Denny flew those colors in Port Lautey, French Morocco; Beirut, Lebanon; and Cairo, Egypt.

The letter he sent to Fisher includes an anecdote about flying the flag in Cairo. As the flag waved above the foxholes, an officer told him to lower it, saying it might draw fire. Denny replied, "Ain't that the general idea?" In a telephone interview he explains, "I was hoping someone would shoot at me so I could shoot back. I was in my early 20s and I really didn't give a damn."


After leaving the Corps, Denny sent the flag to Vietnam with a friend, Sgt. Charles Stephenson of Hustonville.

When Desert Storm rolled around, Harrodsburg police officer Mike Lyons flew the flag from his radio antenna in Kuwait. "His brother came around and asked if I wanted to donate anything to a care package, and it made me think about the flag," says Denny. "It just kind of grew from there."

In the second Gulf War, Sgt. Toby Crossfield flew the flag over Iraq during his deployment.

Now, Fisher is the latest to run up these stars and stripes.

When he received the flag and letter, Fisher was taken aback. As Denny tells the tale, "He told his first sergeant and said, 'We got to do something about this.' So they flew the flag and took a picture with the whole platoon. It just tickled him absolutely to death."

A friend of Denny's nephew Clay McGlone, Fisher left his job and family to join the Marines after the September 11 attacks. He lives in Portageville, Mo., and attended college with McGlone at Murray State University. Fisher eventually graduated from the University of Missouri.

Immediately following his training, he was sent to Afghanistan. "And he's still just as gung-ho now as he was then," says Denny.

Letter published in Leatherneck

To let Denny know how much the flag meant to the Marines in Bagram, Fisher sent a copy of the original letter to Leatherneck, the Marine magazine. It was published in the May issue. "When I got my copy, through the mail, I about fell out of my chair," says Denny.

As Denny puts it, "It really meant something to the guys over there to know that these old Marines like me still think about the Corps like we do and we still think about those guys over there who are putting their life on the line."

On Monday, Fisher personally returned the flag to Denny. In the letter, Denny had specifically requested that he do so, saying that each Marine who has carried this standard returned home safely. He sees the flag as a way to ensure that a Marine comes home. "I'm superstitious in that way, I guess," he says.

The Marines have a long tradition of hoisting the flag all around the world. In fact, the first American flag to be planted on foreign soil was raised by a Marine, Lt. Presley Neville O'Bannon in Tripoli on April 27, 1805. A Virginian who later moved to Kentucky and served in the state senate, O'Bannon is buried in Frankfort.

Denny says that O'Bannon's story has "always been in the back of my mind," as his flag made its way to war zones throughout the world.

Denny's flag is itself a piece of history, not only because it has flown in so many different conflicts, but also because of its 48 stars. Purchased four years before Alaska and Hawaii became states in 1959, the flag is a relic of a former United States. "It's not legal to fly that flag," he says, "but they do it anyway, knowing the history of it."

"It's not about me - I'm not a hero. I'm not the one who packed the flag, except way back when I was a kid," Denny emphatically says. "These guys are in bad, bad situations. People are shooting at them. They're the ones who deserve the attention."

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