Clifton, New Jersey honors soldiers and veterans by lining the street with American flags.
Very few cities around the country can boast about their patriotic spirit quite like Clifton, New Jersey. Five times a year, the Clifton Avenue of Flags lines the streets around City Hall with 1,500 American flags. Each flag represents a living or deceased Clifton military veteran and this year marks the 10th anniversary of the display.
Only one year after the September 11th attacks, community members started planting flags around City Hall. This year John Biegel, the organizer of the Avenue of Flags, put together a picnic to commemorate this milestone, which also coincided with the flag-raising for Labor Day and 9/11. Other holidays in which the flags are erected include Memorial Day, Flag Day, Fourth of July, and Veterans Day. All together the flags are displayed five times a year.
Each flag is purchased for a one-time fee and represents a Clifton soldier or veteran. The name of the individual is then engraved into a small plaque attached to the flag pole. The current flag count has now reached 1,488, split into 24 sections. Initially in 2002, when the program started, roughly only 200 flags adorned City Hall.
A recently added section is dedicated to soldiers who were directly killed in action, which includes 64 flags. Another section sports all 50 state flags, some of which were donated and some purchased.
Although Beigel heads the Flag Avenue Program, the idea originated from a former Clifton resident and WWII veteran Walter Pruiksma. Upon a visit with his son in Iowa, the two took a walk through a park with about 200 U.S. flags raised. Pruiksma instantly felt inspired and approached Biegel when he arrived home to Clifton. From there, the two men received overwhelming approval from the City Council and Clifton’s Avenue of Flags was born.
Each time the flags went up, more citizens would hear about the event, and thus more flags bought and added to the display. And, as the number of flags increased, so did the number of volunteers. Now the town has anywhere from 30-50 sets of helping hands. With those numbers all flags are up in about an hour around 7 am and taken down prior to sunset.
Clifton resident Bill Van Eck helps with the flag display every year and said he is a “proud American” who “loves the flag and what it stands for.” Van Eck traces his true passion for the American flag back to his time in Vietnam when his squad was stationed outside a Special Forces camp and troops next door were overrun by the enemy.
Over his 10 years of running the Avenue of Flags, Biegel says he has met some truly magnificent people, with equally amazing stories. He also added that the Killed in Battle group is his favorite section and believes, “It’s a great thing to honor the veterans from Clifton, we really have to think about those guys [and continue] to honor them.”
Credit: North Jersey