It was a sight Debby Moorhead will never forget.
The streets of Manteca were lined with more than 7,000 people standing between 2,400 flags placed to honor fallen Marine Cpl. Charles O. Palmer II in May of 2007 as a procession escorted his flag-draped coffin.
Moorhead said the gesture of respect seemed the very least the community could do for someone who paid the ultimate sacrifice serving America in Iraq.
It is exactly why the Manteca Chamber of Commerce made it their responsibility to place 2,400 flags on Manteca streets nine days a year.
“It’s to remind people of the price we paid for our liberty,” Moorhead said.
This Sept. 11 marks the 10th anniversary of Flags over Manteca that has become the signature project for the chamber.
The chamber - with Joe Pellegrino at the helm - came up with the flags program as a response to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. In less than six weeks, the chamber had raised more than $60,000 to purchase the flags and poles. Mountain Valley Express stepped up and donated a truck trailer for storage. Perez & Son worked on the poles, Monogram Magic embroidered the names of donors and those who flags were purchased to honor and Luna Painting varnished the poles. Les Thomas has coordinated flag distribution and collection every single day the flags have been out since September 2002.
Moorhead was chamber vice president at the time. She remembers that some voiced concern that the flag project was a bit too much. But she noted after the first day the flags were out - Labor Day 2002 - those who questioned it became some of the project’s biggest boosters.
“We get calls from people from out of town who are surprised to see the flags who tell us how impressed they are,” Moorhead said.
Some - including a couple from Lodi - have said they make it a point to come to Manteca when the flags are out.
But perhaps the greatest sign of appreciation comes from residents who go out of their way to make sure no disrespect is shown the flags.
The first time flags were stolen, several residents tailed the culprit and called Manteca Police making a quick arrest.
“You will see people stopping when they see a flag has fallen who will get out of their car, pick up the flag, clean dirt out of the hole, and put it back into place,” Moorhead noted.
One gentleman - seeing an American flag with AKF Development embroidered on the edge for sale at a Stockton flea market - bought the flag and returned it to the chamber.
“He didn’t confront the guy selling it but he made sure that the flag was returned by buying it back,” Moorhead said.
There will actually be 2,405 flags lining the streets on Labor Day. That’s because five more were purchased with $100 donation each. One honors the memory of William J. Legge II and three were purchased by the Retired Warrant Officers Association to honor Cooper K. Pitsker, Edward B. Munroe, and James H. Jones.
The flags, weather permitting are placed along Manteca streets nine times a year. The days are Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Patriot Day (Sept. 1.1), and Veterans Day.
Volunteers are needed to help place flags on Labor Day, Sept. 5, and Sunday, Sept. 11. To volunteer, call the chamber at 823-7229.