The Pepperell Fourth of July Committee is raising money for 50 new American flags to be installed along Main Street. However, their mission has a much deeper purpose than it might seem on the surface. In the spirit of resourcefulness and in unwavering support of the military men and women fighting overseas, the committee hopes to help provide each and every one of them with a little piece of home to take with them onto foreign soil.
Once the old, tattered flags are removed and the new ones installed, the stars will be cut out of the old swatches and donated to the Pease Greeters, a military support organization located out of Portsmouth, N.H.
Then, said Carol Gates, president of the committee, "A little poem gets written on the back of (the star) and handed to soldiers who are about to go on deployment."
The poem reads, "I am a part of our American Flag. I have flown over a home in the USA. I can no longer fly. The sun and wind have caused me to become tattered and torn. Please carry me as a reminder that you are not forgotten."
The Pease Greeters will then give a star to each of the military members as they board their planes heading to Iraq, Afghanistan or other areas of conflict through the Pease International Tradeport.
The organization was founded by Chuck Cove in May 2005, when a Department of Defense charter plane landed at the airport unannounced to fuel up. The plane was carrying 135 soldiers heading off to tours of duty in Iraq.
"The airport manager ... called up everybody that works for Pease International Airport and told them to get over to the terminal. We weren't going to have 135 solider going to Iraq spending their last hour and a half on U.S. soil alone," said Cove.
Instead, the group was greeted with coffee, doughnuts and a a cheering crowd. Since then, the organization has "grown amazingly," according to Cove, a former Marine. The group gathers at every incoming or outgoing military flight at the airport and provides food, free phone calls courtesy of the telephone banks provided by Whaleback Industries and, most meaningfully, a hero's welcome and salute. So far, the group has been present at 467 flights and has greeted over 150,000 troops.
"It's unbelievable. They don't expect anything and when then the doors open and they walk down the hall, it's like running a gauntlet of greetings," said Cove. "Anywhere between 100 and 200 people are there depending on the time of day or night ... Troops are just so thankful for it."
The greeters come from all over New England, including Pepperell. "People might not agree on everything, but they can agree that this's a right thing to do," said Cove.
Chapel Guarnieri, 17, of Pepperell, was prepared to go with her mom, Lorri, to a flight before it got canceled.
"They're coming back from being away from home for a really long time so if you put yourself in their shoes," said Chapel. "They have no clue we're going to be there. They turn the corner and there's crowd waiting there. It shows appreciation."
For residents who want to participate but can't make it to Portsmouth, there are other ways to help; in order to complete their goal with the flags, the Fourth of July Committee is trying to raise $2,137.50 and is looking for donations. They will be using a $1,500 rollover from the July 4th celebrations. As soon as they reach their financial goal, the committee can replace the flags and donate the stars. They will be using the company Arlington Flag and Banner, which will also be donating stars from its own worn and wrinkled flags.
"There are so many people in town that are so community driven, and it's a big military community. It's cool that the stars from 50 Pepperell flags will be used for this," said Gates.