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13 veterans' interment flags to fly on Fourth
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Each flying memorial has a story

13 veterans' interment flags to fly on Fourth

Thirteen interment flags for veterans — most at one time draped over their coffins — will fly over Tucson on Saturday to honor the veterans’ service to America.

The flags were donated by relatives of the deceased to Flags for the Flagless, a nonprofit organization founded by two Tucson police officers whose mission is to raise Old Glory on barren flagpoles in the city. The organization also gives flags — with donations from businesses and individuals — to schools.

Veteran Sigmund Klaussner, who died in 2005 at 73, is one of the 13 whose flag will fly this Fourth of July.

“I want his flag to be flown because he was so proud of his service to his country,” said his sister, Edie Swankie, who donated the flag to the organization.

Klaussner served in the New Jersey National Guard, the Air Force and the Navy. When he was in the Air Force, he was stationed in Japan. During the Korean War he worked as an airplane mechanic. Later, he served in the Navy and was stationed on the aircraft carrier USS Hornet.

“I feel good about this. I still miss him. He was an important part of my life, and I will always have him in my heart,” said Swankie, explaining that the flag was kept in a closet and it was time for it to be unfurled.

She lovingly talked about her older brother, whom she persuaded in 2004 to move from Florida to Tucson. Klaussner was in poor health, suffering from a heart condition and eventually needing kidney dialysis.

“We had a ritual every morning,” Swankie recalled. “He would unlock the front door and start the coffee. I would go over and make him breakfast. We would eat together and then go out. He loved to go to the Pima Air & Space Museum, and downtown to the train station to watch trains.”

Klaussner, who earned a bachelor’s degree in history from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, wrote a book, “Beanpoles and Cornstalks,” a novel of Civil War railroading published in 2003. He also was a freelance writer whose articles about aviation and maritime subjects were published in magazines.

Another donated flag will be raised to honor Air Force veteran Brent Smith, who died in 1995 of a heart attack at age 47, said son Randy Smith, a Tucson police officer.

Smith said his father, who was born in Curwensville, Pennsylvania, was a mechanic in the Air Force, and served in Korea. He was honorably discharged in 1970, and then worked in construction. He lived in Great Falls, Montana, where at one time he was stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base.

When Smith heard about Flags for the Flagless, he said he wanted his dad’s flag to be viewed. “It had been in a case since his funeral, and I want it seen where someone can get enjoyment from it,” Smith said.

“This is the perfect opportunity to get that flag out there in the community,” he said.

The flags will be raised at 9 a.m. Saturday at different locations in the city by volunteers, mostly Tucson police officers, members of American Legion Morgan McDermott Post 7 and businesses that support the flag organization, said Officer Charles Foley, who along with partner Officer Bradley Clark, founded Flags for the Flagless and spearheaded this recognition.

“It will be moving and special for these flags that honor a veteran to be looking down on our city on July 4th. It is humbling and moving for these soldiers to look down on us on America’s birthday,” said Foley.

Eight of the 13 flags were dropped off for the organization without a word about the veterans the flags represented, Foley said. He said he does know that some flags represented military personnel who served during World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Because the flags are made of cotton and cannot weather the outdoors, they will fly for one day. On Sunday, Foley and Clark will take the flags down, and each flag will be encased and eventually be put on display at businesses, schools or libraries, said Foley.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at or 573-4104. Twitter: @cduartestar

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