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First 603 flags cleaned, put back on poles
Nina Hack and Brandon Olson perform the stacking duties as volunteers that gathered Wednesday at Mountain Valley Express to update the Flags over Manteca inventory. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

Les Thomas is patriotic.

Through short breaths on his portable oxygen tank the longtime guru of Flags over Manteca talks about how great it will be once the public sees that the 2,500 Old Glories lining Manteca’s streets on major holidays are no longer faded glories. 

He talks about the volunteers that have gathered to take the flags off of their poles and transport them down to Park Lane Cleaners – where they’ll be touched up for the first time in more than a decade – and how residents and businesses pooled their collective resources to hit the $10,000 target to make the undertaking possible. 

And Les Thomas talks about Manteca – the town that Pastor Mike Dillman calls the “most patriotic city in America” – and everything that it stands for. 

“Patriotism is alive and well in Manteca and this shows that,” Thomas said. “It’s shown dramatically with these volunteers and these people that are coming out to help. It says a lot about these people and this community.”

On Wednesday Thomas oversaw a group of volunteers that were readying the placement of 603 flags that had just come back from the cleaners. They were neatly packaged in plastic bags like they were brand new, and they shined like they had just come back from the factory – a marked improvement over their shaded counterparts that have collected dirt and dust in the 12 years that they’ve been being placed out along major thoroughfares a dozen times every year. 

With the warm morning sun beating down on him, Brandon Olson wasted no time in jumping into the back of the trailer positioned in the parking lot of Mountain Valley Express and placing the unloaded bags up on shelves until they could be torn into and placed onto their respective posts. 

The work takes time – each flag is attached to the wooden posts with a pair of screws, and the post themselves have taken the same sort of beating over the years that the flags had. 

But given what the entire project represents, Olson said that spending a little bit of his time sprucing things up was a drop in the bucket compared to the sacrifices that people have made for that flag and that they continue to make for the country. 

“You’re talking about guys that are willing to take a bullet for me – the least that I can do is come down and volunteer to put out flags 12 times a year,” he said. “That’s the way I see it.”

Individual donations helped the Manteca Chamber of Commerce, the organization that oversees Flags over Manteca, raise just over $4,000. Local business owner Phil Waterford pledged a $5,000 donation and agreed to donate more money if it’s required to complete the project. 

He presented a check to chamber executive director Joann Beattie last week. 

“It’s amazing. Every day I’m going to the mailbox and I have a pile of checks from the community. I’m floored, really,” Beattie said. “I was wondering how we were going to manage having them all cleaned and how to do all of the work of taking them off of the poles. But Les has organized the whole thing. 

“We’re so appreciative, and I think that it’s amazing how fast they’ve accomplished what they’ve already accomplished.”