VALPARAISO | The city has gone to great lengths to support the military, and the military returned the favor at Monday's council meeting.
After Mayor Jon Costas read a proclamation declaring April the Month of the Military Child honoring the more than 21,000 Indiana children directly affected by the deployment of at least one parent, he was called on to receive a plaque and a flag from members of the military.
The plaque, presented by city Firefighter John Krull and police Officer Tom Horn, was for the U.S. Defense Department's Freedom Award recognizing employers for their support of employees serving in the National Guard and Army Reserves.
"Civilian support is essential for us to do what we do," Krull said.
The flag was from retired Sgt. John Tracey.
Tracey, of Westville, was the senior noncommissioned officer for Company B of the 113th Engineer's Battalion stationed in Valparaiso. When he retired in 2003 after almost 30 years in the military, 22 of those with the National Guard, the unit commander honored him by giving him the flag.
When Bravo Company was activated in 2005 and sent to Mousul, Iraq, Tracey returned the flag with the stipulation that it be flown over their Iraq headquarters and returned to him when they returned home. The first part of the request was done, but, when the company returned to the States, the flag was missing.
"I was present when they got back and I asked for it, and they said it must be in the equipment boxes," Tracey said. "But nobody could find it. I prodded them off and on for over five years, and I assumed someone had absconded with it because it was a piece of history."
Shortly after the company returned from Iraq, all the companies were separated from the battalion and its unit designation was changed to the 713th Engineer's Company, he said.
In December, the commander at that time retired and was cleaning out a closet when he came across a nylon bag. In it he found the flag. Tracey said the troops were given the bags to store personal items when they were being shipped home. The commander had stuffed the flag in the bag and forgotten all about it, or that he even had the bag.
When he found the flag, he realized what it was and who it really belonged to, so he immediately contacted Tracey to return it. To keep a promise to his commander, Tracey flew the flag over his home for 15 minutes, then took it down and decided to donate it to the city.
"I didn't want it to get destroyed in the wind," he said of his reason for taking it down so quickly. "I took pictures of it, then took it down. It still has the dust from Iraq on it. I gave it to the city because they've been so supportive of the National Guard.
"Our guys went over there and fought hard. A lot of blood, sweat and tears went into the flag, and they deserve to be honored also. I thought by giving it to the city, more people would see it and be appreciative of it."
Costas accepted the framed flag saying, "The flag stands as a symbol for the willingness of the men and women to protect the freedoms we enjoy every day. Some gave the ultimate sacrifice. The flag is a reminder that we won't ever forget them."