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Why we fly the flag

Vietnam veteran Tom Rose doesn’t necessarily dwell on the past.

But then, he isn’t about to forget it, either.

Each day he raises three flags outside his home in Greenbank: Old Glory, a black POW/MIA pennant and the official flag of the United States Air Force.

And he is unapologetic about his patriotism.

“Hey, I just believe in the U.S.,” Rose said.

“My family served in the military — my brother Dennis joined the Marines and served in the ’Nam, too — and I gave 20 years to the Air Force,” he said. “The flag is the great symbol of a great country. I still get choked up when I hear the national anthem.”

Rose retired as a chief master sergeant, the highest designation for an enlisted airman.

His own personal service to the country was quite memorable. In 1968 he was sent to Vietnam as an aerial gunner on board a specially converted DC-3 twin engine transport, stationed in Danang.

Designed specifically to inflict death, destruction and terror in the enemy, the aircraft was made famous by its nickname and its firepower.

The AC-47 aircraft, dubbed “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” was a gunship equipped with 200,000-candle power flares to light up the darkness and three mini-guns, each able to spit out 6,000 rounds per minute, with every fourth one a red tracer.

It was a terrifying sight to witness; worse if you were the target of the dragon’s wrath.

Puff’s primary mission involved protecting villages, hamlets and personnel from North Vietnamese Army regulars and Viet Cong guerrillas. Combat reports from the war said that no village or hamlet under the gunship’s protection were ever lost, and there were many reports from civilians and military personnel about AC-47s coming to the rescue and saving their lives.

The men in Rose’s squadron handed out cards encouraging soldiers under fire to call on them. Each card read, “When you hurt enough to want the very best.”

Rose himself was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for “extraordinary achievement” in saving “an untold number of American and Vietnamese lives.”

Rose made a lot of friends during the war. And he lost a few as well.

The black POW flag that flies below the American flag at his home is in memory of an A-26 attack plane pilot named Major James Sizemore.

Sizemore taught Rose to fly the AC-47 in the event of an emergency.

“Jim was shot down over Laos and declared missing in action,” Rose recalled. “I got a letter from him seven days after the incident, so as far as I’m concerned he’s a prisoner-of-war that hasn’t been returned yet. I haven’t forgotten him.”

After Vietnam, Rose became an expert on aerial munitions, traveling the world in the process.

“I’ve been to 46 nations; seeing the American flag when I came home meant a lot. Still does.”

Today, he works on cars old and new — he plans to show his 2006 Saleen Mustang (with a speedometer that tops out at 200 MPH) at the Greenbank car show this weekend — and volunteers his time at the farm.

Though he supported the first Gulf War and the invasion of Afghanistan, Rose questions America’s course in Iraq.

“I’m not sure that was the right move, despite Saddam,” he said.

He knows there’s a lot of people who may not understand, or care, about the flag’s symbolism, but he is undeterred.

“There’s a fellow that flies a big Swedish flag in Freeland near Highway 525,” Rose noted. “That’s OK with me; I just wish he’d fly the American flag, too.

“And with a flag staff just a little higher.”

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