Flags stolen from Madera American Legion Post

FRESNO, Calif.

The theft happened at the American Legion hall at Avenue 17 and Road 26 in Madera.

They are not flags you can buy in a store. They were the flags that draped the coffins of Madera's war dead, and veterans.

They are irreplaceable, and the American Legion Post is hoping to get them back.

An American flag drapes the coffin of each Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman who dies in service to their country. Veterans who pass after their service are also so honored. In a sad and all too familiar ceremony the flags are removed from the coffin folded, and presented to family members at the funeral.

"That flag, that's handed to the next of kin is priceless, that's their symbol of what price was paid for that," Bob Protzman said.

In Madera many families donate, entrust those precious flags to the local American Legion Post, which displays them every Memorial Day and every Veterans Day.

But now 40 of those flags are missing.

Last week someone broke into storage areas in back of the Legion Hall and took two plastic containers containing the flags.

"These flags hold a great sentiment to the families that receive them. So when these particular flags, not just any flag that you can buy come up missing well it's a great blow to the family members as well as this community," Michael Harris said.

Each of the flags is embroidered or stenciled with the name of the deceased.

"We have three flags that date to World War I. Ninety percent of the flags taken were from World War II. So that's a whole generation of flags," Protzman said.

The post is planning a fundraiser to buy more flags if necessary. But their biggest hope is the flags will somehow be returned.

"Those individual flags can't be replaced but we would ask that whoever took these items, these memorial items to put them someplace, call the police and have them picked up," Harris said.

All the missing flags are named and numbered, so the Post knows whose flag was taken.

They are making arrangements to buy more flags, at $100 each, and have the names embroidered on them, but again those replacements would not be the actual flags. They don't believe the thieves were looking for flags, they also made off with lawn equipment.

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