U.S. flag flies from new spot at county war memorial

WWII veteran waged 14-year campaign to swap flag positons

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

Updated: October 24, 2012, 5:42 PM

 

Wally Tharp capped a long campaign Wednesday morning at Vancouver Barracks with a flag raising.

It was the same flag that has been flying at the Clark County Veterans War Memorial, but now it’s on a different pole — the pole that had been displaying the Washington state flag.

Tharp, a 92-year-old World War II veteran, has long contended that the U.S. flag was being flown at a subservient position on the west side of the flag plaza.

On Wednesday, Tharp — who lived at Vancouver Barracks as a youngster — was able to hoist the flag up the pole a few yards to the east.

“It’s been 14 years,” Tharp said as he watched the Stars and Stripes ripple overhead.

Tharp has been a frequent visitor in local classrooms, teaching students about flag etiquette.

The American flag is always to the left of an observer facing the display, Tharp said.

A lengthy discussion, which has included a decade of letters to the editor, offered differing views about what constituted the front of the memorial site.

The war memorial, which honors Clark County personnel who have died since the Spanish American War, was dedicated in 1998.

Vancouver Barracks was a U.S. Army installation back then; the Army transferred it to the National Park Service earlier this year.

Greg Shine, chief ranger at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, gave Tharp a hand by bringing down all three flags at the memorial — including a POW/MIA banner — and unclipping them.

“On matters of the flag, we defer to organizations with expertise,” Shine said.

In this case, that was the Community Military Appreciation Committee, a nonprofit that took on the role of celebrating the county’s military heritage and traditions following the Army’s departure.

CMAC co-chairman Larry Smith, city council member and retired Army officer who’d been based at Vancouver Barracks, provided the letter that allowed the flag switch to move forward. Smith wrote that in his roles as CMAC co-chairman and as a former member of the war memorial committee, “I have no objection for the current alignment of the flags to be reversed.”

Shine’s correspondence with Tharp included a comment from a military legal affairs official who noted that “outdoor displays are inherently problematic, as the flags involved are meant to be visible from a number of angles.”

Shine said they were not able to immediately fly the POW/MIA flag as part of the switch. The halyard on that pole was rigged for only one flag; when the necessary hardware is added, the POW/MIA flag will be flown right below the state flag.

Tharp said he also has some work to do at the site. He said the war fatalities from the earliest conflicts on the monument should be facing the American flag.

“They should pick it up and turn it,” Tharp said.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://www.twitter.com/col_history; tom.vogt@columbian.com.