Gale Wilkison, who calls herself “Annie Amerika,” stopped in Valley on June 10 to present a new American flag to homeowners Barbara and Stacy “Hoss” Murray. It was the second day of Wilkison’s two-month road trip across the country to promote patriotism in honor of her late husband.
Wilkison will travel nearly 9,000 miles on a round trip journey through the back roads of 27 states to replace worn flags as a free gift to unsuspecting patriots. It is a trip her husband, John, a disabled Vietnam Naval Veteran, had dreamed of taking before he was killed in a single vehicle accident in November 2010. They had been together for 30 years.
She is taking the trip on her own to “honor my husband, our country, its veterans, and to help heal my heart,” Wilkison shares with everyone on her Internet blog.
Wilkison said her husband is the most patriotic person she has ever known. The first thing he always did was put the flagpole up outside every residence they rented or owned and took it down every night if it was not lit. It became a family ritual.
She plans to scout out worn flags as she travels and offer the owner, whom she will not know, a replacement. Wilkison has 81 flags with her and hopes to give at least one away each day.
The Murrays’ property was the third stop for Wilkison who began the journey on June 9 in her hometown of Bridgeport, Wash.
Since ITD Productions of Valley sponsored the flag that Wilkison presented to the Murrays, she planned the stop for June 10 on her way from Bridgeport to Cheney. Teresa Nelson of ITD Productions, a friend of Wilkison, had previously spotted the Murrays’ flagpole placed prominently in the center of their front lawn and said she saw that the flag was a “perfect” candidate for the project as it was in poor condition. ITD Productions has donated many other flags as well.
Barbara Murray said their flagpole was given to them as wedding gift from a friend when they were married on Sept. 21, 2001, just ten days afte the 9/11 attacks. She said they are honored to be a part of the “Annie Amerika” route, especially since they had just been talking about their need for a new flag since it was faded and severely tattered on the edges.
Trying to hold back tears, Wilkison presented the new flag to the Murrays by saying: “On behalf of my husband John, I would like you to accept this flag to fly proudly at your home.”
Boy Scouts of Troop 989 of Valley took down the old flag and raised the new flag. The Troop then held a flag retirement ceremony to burn the three worn flags that Wilkison had collected on her journey thus far.
The retirement ceremony, which took place in the Murrays’ backyard, was an emotional one for Wilkison as she knew how proud her husband would have been to see it. He was a Boy Scout in his youth.
“They did a fantastic job, it is exactly what John would have wanted,” Wilkison said. “He wanted to make sure future generations knew how to retire flags properly.”
Wilkison had always planned to donate worn flags to Boy Scout troops along the journey once she collected eight or ten, but said this is probably the only retirement ceremony she will actually witness on the entire trip.
Troop 989 Scoutmaster Tim Thompson presented the charred flag grommets to Wilkison out of the fire following the ceremony. He also found one that was not charred, which he said was very unusual. She plans to put it on her key chain.
On her trip, Wilkison said she will visit three large bodies of water from the Atlantic Ocean, to the Gulf of Mexico to Astoria, Oregon on the Pacific Coast. She is traveling in a 1985 Chevrolet Campervan that she purchased in 2011.
Kimberly Gormley at Signs Etcetera of Waterville, Wash. painted the van in a patriotic theme that makes a statement to anyone who sees it. Major sponsors for “Annie Amerika” are listed in the stars of the large bright design. These include the VFW, of which John was a lifetime member among many other groups and individuals. Wilkison said she has been amazed by all the people who have offered their support.
Wilkison said all the flags are from Annin Flagmakers, which are American-made and have been used in every presidential inauguration since Abraham Lincoln except for the most recent one for Barack Obama.
Follow Wilkison on her trip at www.annieamerika2012.blogspot.com or at www.facebook.com/annieamerika2012. Wilkison said she did not misspell America as any disrespect to the country, but as a way to create a unique online identity.
By Kellie Trudeau, The Independent Staff
In This Photo: Gale Wilkison presents a new flag to Barbara and Stacy “Hoss” Murray at their home in Valley. Sandra Fish photo