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Newly Donated American Flags Raised On Veterans Bridge

May 23, 2017

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Newly donated American flags now fly over Veterans Bridge downtown in honor of men and women who served in our country's armed forces.

On Monday, families and other donors gathered at the Bluff View Art District Sculpture Garden to hear the stories of the veterans named in the city's biannual flag-raising ceremony, which takes place around Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

Chattanooga Police Department Assistant Chief Tracy Arnold, a U.S. Army veteran, spoke in the gray morning drizzle, with a clear view to Veterans Bridge and the Tennessee River behind him.

"Today's event allows us to spend time in reflection and fellowship, to hear story after story of the brave service of so many," Arnold said. "It's one of the most moving and meaningful events I've been a part of. Simply put, this ceremony is an incredible example of the bond between our citizens and our military."

He introduced Mayor Andy Berke, who read proclamations highlighting the service of the dozens honored.

"Each flag on this bridge represents the brave service man or woman whose story is one of sacrifice, patriotism and love of country," Berke said.

Honorees included Chief Warrant Officer Don Davenport, who served in Korea, Vietnam and Germany between 1955 and 1996; World War II veteran Sgt. Robert Miller and Bruce N. Lanier Jr., a U.S. Army Ranger and a first lieutenant in the 101st Airborne Division in the Vietnam War.

Miller, who received the Bronze Star Medal, fought in "a number of storied campaigns," Berke said, citing the Battle of the Bulge and the capture of the Colmar Pocket in France in January 1945.

Lanier was a Clemson graduate who enlisted and served "with distinction as a combat infantryman, including missions behind enemy lines," his proclamation reads.

David Steele, vice president of policy and education at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, talked a little bit about what Lanier — his father-in-law, now deceased — and his service means to his family.

"The Veterans Bridge is one of our favorite parts of living in Chattanooga," Steele said. "We cross it at least twice every day, and on every trip across it we talk about Grandpa Bruce and the veterans. It's the reason my 3-year-old knows what Vietnam is."

Monday was the first time the family paid tribute to Lanier with a flag on Veterans Bridge, but they will do so again, Steele said.

While his family has its own reasons for appreciating the flags that fly over Veterans Bridge, Steele said he knows it means a lot to many others.

"I think this is a wonderful thing, that the city provides us this opportunity to honor veterans and loved ones that are close to us," Steele said. "It's a great opportunity to keep memories alive and just a very treasured experience for us."

Engineering consultant Scott McKenzie couldn't agree more.

Berke has credited McKenzie with jump-starting the Veterans Bridge flag initiative, launched in 2014 after the engineer contacted the city's transportation department about donating $75 to place a flag in his father's honor.

That's the year the city learned an anonymous donor, who had paid to place 700 flags on the bridge since 2003, no longer could purchase them on behalf of Chattanooga.

"This is not about me," McKenzie said in a phone interview. "This is about looking for a way for those seeking to honor their loved ones and to help the city out at the same time."

McKenzie said he faced a challenge in 2003 when he first tried to honor his father, Capt. R.T. Allen McKenzie, who commanded landing craft in five amphibious invasions in the Mediterranean and Pacific theaters in World War II.

At the time, he realized cities typically don't have mechanisms for accepting donations for services they provide, McKenzie said.

He did not really seek to create a flag donation program 10 years later when he wanted to purchase a flag for his father's 100th birthday, McKenzie said. However, he was not surprised the idea took on a "life of its own" because of how people respond to veterans in Chattanooga. His desire was only for the city to afford opportunities so as to make it easier for citizens to contribute to commemorating our veterans, McKenzie said.

McKenzie and Berke both credit Caroline Johnson, a program coordinator with the Chattanooga Department of Transportation, with championing the initiative.

Now, anyone who wants to honor a member of the military services can do so by contacting the Chattanooga Department of Transportation and donating $75 to cover the cost of a flag, a personalized certificate and a map pinpointing the pole where the flag flies for its six-month tenure.

"Obviously a whole mess of people love to do this," McKenzie said.