Veteran Flagpole Initiative seeks to honor northeast Iowa Vets

By Zach Jensen,

Volunteers erect the flagpole at the home of Vietnam Veteran Arvin Van Zee. (submitted)

A representative from Veteran Flagpole Initiative (VFI), which installs flagpoles for Veterans across Iowa at no cost in honor of their service to the United States, will make a presentation about the organization from Monday, March 25 from 6 to 6:30 p.m., at the All Vets Club located at 104 State Street in Decorah. The public – especially Veterans, their families and friends – are invited to attend.

According to the organization’s website, each 20-ft. telescopic flagpole is made of components strictly manufactured in the U.S., and both Iowa and the U.S. flags will be included. Atop each flagpole are small solar panels, which automatically power lights during the evening hours to illuminate the flags. 

VFI supplies and installs all flagpole assemblies free of charge, and Decorah Navy Veteran Doug Smith, a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 1977 in Decorah, said he was “blown away” when he was notified that he’d be the first northeast Iowa Veteran to be honored with a VFI flagpole.

Smith said that in October 2023, his wife, Linda, saw something about VFI online, and out of curiosity, she clicked the link and completed a form, nominating her husband to be considered for the honor.

Doug, who served in the U.S. Navy for 28 years, said VFI requested additional information about his military career, and he submitted it. But, it wasn’t until Christmas Day 2023 that he heard back from VFI.

Doug and Linda were celebrating the holiday, when their phone rang. Linda answered and handed the phone to Doug. On the other end was Eric Dolash of VFI.

“I know it’s Christmas Day,” Dolash said, “but I thought this would be a perfect Christmas gift to call you and tell you that you will be receiving a flagpole from VFI.”

“I was just like, ‘Wow,’” Doug remembered.

Then, in February 2024, Dolash called Doug again to let him know his flagpole would be installed on June 15 — Father’s Day weekend. During their conversation, Dolash shared with Doug that the organization was having difficulty finding interested Veterans in northeast Iowa, including Winneshiek, Howard, Allamakee, Clayton, Fayette and Chickasaw counties.

“I really need a point of contact in Winneshiek County,” Dolash told Doug; to which Doug replied, “I’m a member of VFW Post 1977 here, in Decorah, and you’re talking to your new point of contact in Winneshiek County. So, I can help you get the word out.”

Doug said VFI hopes to install flagpoles in the yards of every Iowa Veteran. 

“VFI is comprised of a passionate, purpose-driven, and patriotic volunteer force spread across the state of Iowa and beyond,” reads information on VFI’s website. “Originally formed in 2021, VFI quickly and effectively established a core focus of providing Veterans with a permanent visual reminder of our appreciation for their service and sacrifice. A group of roughly 50 friends elected to combat the divisiveness and animosity in society today with actions as an example to our children that good still exists. With that, we began to create and improve the process of installing flagpoles for Veterans.”

Doug added that VFI has only installed 40 flagpoles, statewide, and none north of Waverly. 

“It’s a handful of Veterans volunteering to install them,” he said. “My wife knows I’ve always wanted a flagpole. I’ve just never put one up. So, I was totally blown away, and now, I have no excuses. It’s definitely humbling.”

For additional information about VFI, or to nominate a Veteran to receive a flagpole, visit www.veteranflagpoles.org.

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