Shortly before 1 p.m. on Friday, pockets of people slowly started filing out of their offices and homes from D Street and Bonita Ave. in La Verne all the way to Cataract and 4th St. in San Dimas – and Lindsay Lohan was nowhere in sight.
This curious confection of patriotic paparazzi on a hazy dog day of summer had assembled to see and honor a bigger celebrity and real American hero– Carl Harstine, a spry 84-year-old ex-U.S. Marine who twice had his flag stolen from the front yard of his tidy San Dimas home. The flags had later been found a few blocks away desecrated.
With military precision, an entourage of motorcycle riders, known as the Friends of the Fourth, left Roberta’s restaurant at 1 p.m. and led a procession of cars west on Bonita before turning north on Cataract and reaching Harstine’s home on 4th. Along the unlikely parade route, people waved and wielded tiny American flags to show their respect for what was about to take place.
The two communities of La Verne and San Dimas, led by Tim Morrison, the organizer of the Friends of the Fourth, Brian McNerney, CEO of the La Verne Chamber, and many, many others, had rallied to restore the flag – and they meant business.
With neighbors, friends, family, councilmen and the curious observing and many tearing up, the Friends of the Fourth not only presented Harstine, dressed smartly in his Marine blues, with a new flag, but anchored a new flag pole in his yard, a new bulwark of defense against the flag robbers.
“You make this old marine feel proud that you still care,” Harstine told the more than 100 people who had gathered around his home. “I appreciate you all.”
Cheers and hurrahs greeted his words. “We appreciate you, too,” many were heard reciprocating.
When Hartstine’s first flag was stolen, he was very upset, his daughter-in-law Donna Harstine had said.
“When they were stolen a second time, that really sent him through the roof,” she said.
In the home where Harstine has lived for more than 40 years, the old Marine was ready to defend his turf, but the community came to his rescue as word quickly spread about the injustice done.
“The people of San Dimas truly love him,” Donna said. “He’s an icon of the city.”
Although he’s 84, Hartstine is still active in the community, slipping on his uniform every Wednesday night to help raise money for a new veterans’ monument.”
“This old marine, who is not getting any younger, wants to see the monument built before he’s gone,” he said, looking as if he is still in battle-ready shape.
While a proud moment for the veteran soldier, it was an equally proud moment for the community.
“I’m here today to honor a citizen who had a wrong done to him,” McNerney said. “We are here to correct that wrong for a man who gave the best years of his life to support this country and keep us free. No one should steal his flags; now we’re going to replace them.”
Added Corrine Pantaleo, a La Verne neighbor, “I feel like crying. We need to support all our vets. They have done so much for us. God bless them. God bless America.”
If the theft and desecration of Hartstine’s flags were a prank, it’s a prank that backfired.
It got not one, but two communities to take the streets to defend the flag and the men and women, like Harstine, who have sacrificed so much to keep it flying as a beacon of liberty and justice for all.