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thedrifter
04-05-06, 10:35 AM
Flags will fly at half-staff for the man who raised them for servicemen
Salisbury Post

It hit me hard when word came that Woodrow Kesler had died Monday.

Not that we'd been lifelong friends.

We'd only known each other since former Post photographer James Barringer and I went to his house on an April day in 2003 to see his flags.

That was just three years ago, but we came away knowing we'd met a good man and his wife, Barbara.

A tiny sprinkle of rain started falling when his wife, Barbara, pushed his wheelchair down the back door ramp and over the grass to the front of their house on Bringle Ferry Road.

But that didn't bother them.

Barbara was taking him to see the flags her son, Bobby Haynes, had put on poles tall enough to be seen from the road.

There were no yellow ribbons there to say the United States was at war again, this time with Iraq.

Instead they had the flags.

"We put up an American flag and flags for all four branches of the service — the Army, the Navy, the Marines and the Air Force — to honor all Americans who are serving in a war or have served in a war," Barbara said, because she and Woodrow know about war.

That was two years ago. Woodrow was 90 then and suffering from Parkinson's Disease. He'd turned 93 when he died Monday.

He was one of 11 children, eight of them boys. Five went to war. Lee was killed in World War I, and their mother kept the flag that covered his casket folded away in an upstairs bureau drawer for more than 50 years. Next to the bureau was his picture, and the story of what happened to him was beneath the picture of a handsome boy looking out of a frame.

He was 20 on Oct. 6, 1918, when his ship collided with another ship in the English Channel. Three years later, when the war was over, his body was found, identified, brought home and buried at old Providence Methodist Church cemetery.

A generation later four more of those boys, Woodrow, Wilburn, David and Vance — two of them too young for World War I and two born after it was over — were overseas in World War II.

And their mother lay awake at night listening for the phone to ring.

But, thank goodness, they all came back.

Woodrow was a staff sergeant with the signal battalion in North Africa.

He had his own telephone, and he kept the lines open, his wife said, while all that ammunition was going across his head in North Africa, France, Germany, Central Europe ...

But he came back, worked at Cannon Mills Plant No. 7 in Salisbury —and always remembered and felt for those going to war — and for their families.

And when the war with Iraq began?

Well, he was with them again. He watched it all day on television.

But there wasn't much he and Barbara could do about it — until he thought of the flags. Flags were the only thing they could think of to honor them — those gone to war and those going and those who had been killed and those who might be killed.

"We wanted to honor everyone," Barbara said. "The veterans who live here now and the ones that came home in a casket or walked home or came home wounded. All that touched our lives."

And if they had no one in the Middle East then, they expected to have someone there soon.

Their granddaughter Lisa's husband, James Pugh, was stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and had been alerted to go, but he's back now.

And others were serving or had served.

Carol's husband, Bruce Dishman, was a master sergeant in the Air Force, too, and Barbara's son, Bobby Haynes, who put the flags up, had been in the Marines, and their daughter Diane's husband, Sgt. Maj. Danner Bierhaus, had served in Vietnam, and another grandson, Brian Osborne, was on the USS Kitty Hawk in the Navy.

Why, their family alone was large enough to fly all those flags, but they were for everybody — and where everybody could see them from the road, especially, if the wind was blowing,

"And Bobby put up a night light so Woodrow could see the flags from his bed at night when he couldn't sleep," Barbara says. "He could just look out there and see the wind blowing and the flags flying."

And he did as long as he could, knowing what they stood for, day or night, in sunshine or in rain. And so did his family and neighbors up and down the road and on other roads, and they will again.

But the United States flag will be different for a few days.

Monday morning, with all the family gathered, their grandson, Brian Osborne, quietly walked over to his grandmother.

"Grandmaw," he said, "I put the United States flag at half-mast. I hope it was OK with you."

"Honey," she told him, "you know it's OK. It's what your grandpa would have wanted you to do. And we'll leave it half-mast until Sunday."

And after that, Barbara knows she'll remember why Woodrow wanted them there and what they meant to him, so she'll keep on looking at the flags fly, day and night, and "watch them always but especially when the wind is blowing."

Contact Rose Post at 704-797-4251 or rpost@salisburypost.com.

Rest In Peace

Ellie