MESA, Arizona – In a clean and humble trailer park near Falcon Field on the Valley’s east side, Carlyle Brown snipped away at the blue field of a tattered American Flag.
“I ask people for their torn flags and out of the blue field I cut each star,” he explained.
He said he regularly cruises his neighborhood inspecting the colors high on top of flagpoles. When he sees one that is particularly worse for the wear, he brings a new flag and asks the neighbor to trade.
And, when he can’t get a hold of the owner, he admitted, “I put a new flag up for them and don’t leave them any note.”
Each star he has removed is tucked and sealed in a plastic envelop with a message on a little card. He read it aloud, “I AM Part of Our American Flag… that flew over a home in Arizona. I can no longer fly… I have been tattered and torn but not forgotten. YOU are not forgotten. Thank you for your service to our Country.”
Brown said most people appreciate the small gesture, but he knows there are some who wonder, “How can you cut up the flag?”
He assured those worried, “The flag is going to be burned in a ceremonial service. I carefully remove only the stars and then fold the flag back up and deliver it to the local Eagle Scouts of America for retirement.”
The stars represent the 50 U.S. states, but for Brown, who fought under the American flag in Quang Tri during the Vietnam War, it represents every person who served.
“This star represents Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine, Air Force,” Brown declared, “You served your country and you should not be forgotten.”
In the mid-1960s, as the U.S. began escalating troop numbers in Vietnam, Brown was studying physical education at Central Michigan.
“About a year and half later it just wasn’t working out,” he conceited. “Some of my friends were (enlisting) and I said, ‘I gotta go.’ So, January ’66, I enlisted in the Marine Corps.”
His college education and high entry scores allowed Brown to choose his division.
“I signed up for four years as an aviation supply man,” assisting the helicopter crews with parts and repairs, he explained.
But, when he arrived in Vietnam, Brown said orders changed quickly.
“They put me on as a door gunner on a helicopter gun ship,” he laughed. “Our primary job was to fly close support for the ground troops.”
He quickly learned how to shoot an MC-60 machine gun while flying over enemy targets and assisting American troops on the ground.
“They wanted us to come in hot and low,” often with the UH-1E chopper skimming tree tops he explained. “We had tree foliage in our landing skids, that’s how low to the ground we were.”
He remembers the day he earned his Bronze Star Medal as if it were yesterday.
“We flew in a recon team up by the demilitarized zone.”
Two other helicopters were flying in to help a recon team under enemy fire from North Vietnamese Regulars.
“They started taking enemy fire.”
Brown was overhead looking down at the team.
“I could see where the enemy fire was coming from, so I just opened up a heavy volume of fire and that allowed the recon team to crawl to the helicopter and get out.”
The pilot of the other chopper put Brown’s name in for his heroism in combat.
Fifty years later, the retired Marine sits on his porch near the edge of Falcon Field, where helicopters buzz in and out of the airport.
“I still get goose pimples whenever the helicopters come over,” he admitted.
Thinking about being a Grand Marshall in this year’s Veteran’s Day Parade, he is very humbled.
“I just can’t get over that it’s me to represent the Vietnam veterans!” He marveled as he continued to cut stars for fellow veterans. “Somebody cared enough to put my name in.”
His good deeds had come full circle.
Holding a completed star and message packed in his lap he realized, “Somebody didn’t forget me.”
KTAR will honor each grand marshal of the upcoming Veterans Day parade during our Profiles in Courage series.
- Profiles in Courage: Get to know the Phoenix Veterans Day Parade grand marshals
- Profiles in Courage: Army veteran earns Bronze Star for heroism while in combat
- Profiles in Courage: Phoenix Vietnam vet wounded four times trying to rescue friend
- Profiles in Courage: What it’s like to prepare Navy planes for battle for decades
- Profiles in Courage: Army vet wants fallen soldiers, including son, to be remembered