May 26, 2005
Ben Hill County-- The Memorial Day holiday begins in a few hours with many people showing their appreciation to the men and women of the armed forces.
One man decided to go all out to praise the troops by using fence posts to do more than hold wire. The flag lover wants everyone to appreciate the symbols of our country like he does.
You can spot true love instantly in Joe Cumbee's classroom at Ben Hill County's Middle School. "I've flown flags in my classroom for the past 20 to 25 years," says Joe Cumbee, a veteran social studies teacher who loves history and flags.
He loves flags so much that he created a suspended museum of sorts that includes Betsy Ross' creation to all the stars and stripes in between. "Never met a flag I never liked," says Cumbee sitting near the Georgia State flag.
His deep emotional attachment includes not just his classroom display, where the flags gently wave, but an even bigger display outside. "This is a nice breeze blowing today. Sure is," says Cumbee as the flags rippled from a brisk northerly breeze that stretches each one to its maximum length.
Joe Cumbee uses fence posts on his farm to hold 35 more flags. "All of them are my favorite," says Cumbee when asked if he has one he likes more than another. He spends about an hour a day, making sure they look their best. "I probably use my wife's sewing machine more than she does," says Cumbee as you see a hint of wear on the bottom of one flag.
He has made all the American flags from bolts of cloth using the sewing machine. Cumbee carries a sewing kit to make minor repairs on-the-spot. The flag display never looks the same from one day to the next. "Change the flag one pole to another pole," says Cumbee who takes each one down at night and stores them until the next morning. With the sun setting, he gently removes a flag, rolls it up and thinks about what it represents before putting into a carrying crate.
What is it about flags that captivate his interest? In essence, he says, he does it for the troops, especially the men and women of the local National Guard ordered to Iraq. "They are in our thoughts and prayers," says Cumbee, as he unwraps one of the blue "Support Our Troops" flags that got twisted around its plastic flag pole. "Without folks like them, I wouldn't be here and flying my flags," says Cumbee.
He expects to have as many as 60 flags for that day when the troops come home from war, maybe driving past his display that symbolizes his unwavering thankfulness.
You will need to hurry to see the flag display on Rebecca Road in Fitzgerald. Joe Cumbee says he will keep his flag display flying through Memorial Day.