Members of the Merrill Lions Club lined Main Street with American flags Saturday morning as they do every year for Memorial Day and other major holidays like Labor Day and the Fourth of July. They also raised the 30 feet by 60 feet Memorial flag onto the flag pole on Main Street dedicated to honoring prisoners of war and those missing in action.
Bob Petrik, who was president of the Merrill Lions Club in 1984 when the original flag was raised and dedicated, was among the members to hang the street flags and help raise the big flag onto the flag pole Saturday morning.
Petrik called watching the Memorial flag rise every year “very emotional,” knowing what the flag means to him and so many others.
Lions Club President Rhonda Nyseth said the group continues to do this as a matter of community pride and honor.
“It’s about community pride and honoring the people in our community,” Nyseth said. “It’s just about honoring their sacrifices.”
While this Memorial Day is different for many people as a result of COVID-19 limiting gatherings and keeping some places closed, Nyseth said it was important for the eight Lions members, followed by Merrill Police Marshall Brian Bicknell to ensure their safety, to place the flags down Main Street as they always do to keep a sense of normalcy and to ensure those who sacrificed are still celebrated.
As the caravan of Lions Club members hung the flags, some who drove by honked their support or waved from the sidewalk. Both Nyseth and Petrik said they know the community supports them and appreciates the flags.
Petrik is the longest living member of the Merrill Lions club, with a membership spanning over 40 years. He has a video of the ceremony the first time they raised the Memorial flag, and he even has a piece of the original flag that he said was torn up by the weather.
He said the flag they hoisted Saturday is new and this is the second time it’s flown.
At the time of its construction and dedication, the Memorial flag pole was the largest on the west coast, Petrik said, which made the flag pole a landmark for the city still today. He recalled a picture of the flag flying with a runner carrying the Olympic torch passing by.
The Lions Club raises money for organizations throughout the community and a scholarship fund. Nyseth said they were able to have their annual Crab Feed fundraiser in February right before things were shut down due to COVID-19. Still, the group relies on community donations to fund the replacement and upkeep of its flags. The massive memorial flag costs $1,500, Nyseth said, and repairs can cost about $1,200.
Petrik said it’s his family’s tradition to spend Memorial Day together and visit sites honoring service men and women in the community.
Over 30 years later, the Memorial flag still flies in Merrill, and Petrik said it will be there forever.
Although COVID-19 has changed people’s plans every day, Nyseth said they weren’t going to cancel putting the flags along Main Street as they do five times a year, every year.
The flags will be taken down Tuesday morning.