By 1 or 2 p.m. Monday, Terry Thurman and Steve Bosshard may start to wilt. Memorial Day is long and exhausting for this pair, both military vets.
But if the historic pattern holds, a fair number of people still will be paying their respects at the Santa Rosa Memorial Park cemetery when a late-spring, early-afternoon breeze kicks up and sets 1,000 large, pole-strung American flags to rippling and snapping.
About then, the weary organizers of the annual Avenue of the Flags tribute tend to catch a second wind.
Taking in the spectacle of the unfurled, 9.6-foot by 5-foot flags, many of which once draped caskets of GIs and veterans, the volunteers start thinking that all the work involved in Sonoma County's largest Memorial Day commemoration is worth the effort.
"It's just beautiful to witness," said co-organizer Thurman, who's 62 and an Air Force veteran.
She and Bosshard, a 68-year-old Marine Corps vet and retired police officer, do worry about how much longer the 42-year-old tradition will survive without a significant infusion of younger blood.
"This is my 18th year," said Thurman, who worked an entire career with the U.S. Postal Service. "Everybody's getting older."
Sustaining the Avenue of the Flags has been a concern since the star-spangled Memorial Day salute was born in 1972 with the loan of the first veteran's burial flag. Helen Finley Comstock of Santa Rosa offered up the flag she was given five years earlier upon the death of her husband, Sonoma County Superior Court Judge and World War I infantry officer Hilliard Comstock.
The late Mrs. Comstock entrusted the flag to Avenue of the Flags founders Bill Grafe and the late Al Andrews. That was 42 years ago, when Vietnam veteran and American Legion officer Grafe was a partner in Eggen & Lance Mortuary, and Andrews managed Santa Rosa Memorial Park, the city's largest cemetery and home to a large veterans' lawn.
Memorial Day observances had been conducted in Santa Rosa, fairly small and static gatherings at the Veterans Memorial Building, with speeches and a touch of music.
Andrews thought locals who had died in service to their country and vets who had passed on deserved more. He told Grafe, who served as an officer with a combat mortuary in Vietnam, about something the American Legion was doing in Salinas.
It was an Avenue of the Flags, a public, Memorial Day display of the flags given to local families of members of the Armed Services who had lost their lives, and of veterans who had died since their honorable discharge from the military.
Grafe remembers phoning fellow American Legion members in Salinas and driving there with five other members of Santa Rosa's Theodore Roosevelt Post 21 of the American Legion to speak with their Monterey County counterparts.
They returned home and scheduled Santa Rosa's first Avenue of the Flags for May 29, 1972. Also that May, the Paris Peace Talks broke down between the warring U.S. and Vietnam, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover died at age 77 and "The Godfather" rubbed out all its competitors at the box office.
The Santa Rosa commemoration would need flags.
"We put the word out around town that we were doing this," said Grafe. American Legion members asked if survivors of GIs and veterans would loan or donate the burial flags they had received from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
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