Officials break ground for huge American flag on I-475

pramati@macon.comOctober 31, 2013 

Local officials and military veterans are putting the “flag” in Flag City in a very big way.

At a ceremony Thursday morning in south Bibb County, officials broke ground for what is thought to be the tallest free-standing flagpole in the United States as part of the dedication of the interchange at Interstate 475 and Thomaston Road to honor veterans. It will take about six months to complete the project.

“We wanted to make a statement,” said Kenneth Maye, commander of American Legion Post 3. “We want something that would make people remember all fallen soldiers.”

The pole will display the American flag as well as a second flag honoring POWs/MIAs.

One of Macon’s nicknames is Flag City, so having such a large flag located here is appropriate to many.

The interchange has been named the “Veterans of All Wars Interchange,” part of an effort led by Bibb County Commissioner Joe Allen to name all the interchanges along I-475 in honor of military heroes.

“We want to send the message that we support the military and (Robins Air Force Base),” Allen said.

Maye said he and Allen worked for nearly a year on the project and got help from the local legislative delegation. State Rep. Nikki Randall, D-Macon, introduced the legislation to get the location approved and the interchange renamed.

Allen said he has talked with Monroe County Commission Chairman Mike Bilderback about naming the I-475 interchange at Bolingbroke in honor of POWs and MIAs. Allen also wants to change the name of the interchange at Eisenhower Parkway to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Parkway.

Before he leaves office in two months, Allen said he also plans to look into naming the interchange at I-475 and Zebulon Road in memory of Maj. Cole Hogan, who died during the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon.

People who attended Thursday’s groundbreaking were given a glimpse of how impressive the new memorial will be.

The American flag will be 30 feet tall by 60 feet wide and will weigh in at about 1,400 pounds. It will be attached to a 228-foot flagpole that will be erected in the next six months. As a matter of perspective, the flagpole displaying a huge American flag along Interstate 75 near McDonough is about 160 feet tall, Maye said. Maye said the POW/MIA flag will be 20 feet by 40 feet.

He said it’s important that everyone take pride in the American flag. When he speaks with schoolchildren about the flag, Maye said, they often don’t know how to treat it respectfully or grasp its full significance.

“I hope it brings back patriotism and pride in America,” Maye said. “Some of these kids don’t even know what the flag stands for.”

Macon Mayor Robert Reichert said the ceremony touched him as a public official, a Vietnam veteran and as the cousin of pilot Buddy Bennett, who is still listed as MIA after being shot down in Vietnam.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing to do for our community,” Reichert said. “It’s an element of pride to have this flag -- it’s wonderful to have in our community.”

American Legion Post 3 will cover the cost of the flagpole, about $36,000, as well as the two flags, which cost about $3,000 each.

Advanced Disposal, located at 4291 Interstate Road, donated the land for the flag and will cover the utility costs for the lighting.

Charlie Appleby, chairman and CEO of Advanced Disposal, said it was a no-brainer to donate the land once his company was approached.

“It was an easy request to honor,” said Appleby, who spent 31 years in the Army. “We like to take every opportunity we can to recognize the service of American servicemen. People will be able to (see the flag) and give thanks to veterans.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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