Wall of Honor gets Old Glory

Capps Presents Flag to be Mounted on Airport Display

An American flag that once waved over Capitol Hill now will make its home at the Santa Maria Public Airport, where the Wall of Honor has slowly been taking shape during the past few months.

Congresswoman Lois Capps presented the flag Friday to Hugh Rafferty, the driving force behind creating the military tribute inside the airport terminal.  “Whether you’re coming or going, this is the last image that you see,” Capps said about the Wall of Honor that displays the flags of every branch of the military, as well as a POW/MIA flag. “Aren’t you proud?”

The flagpoles stand in front of a large American flag backdrop, honoring all military service members. Additionally, the area provides a patriotic place for individuals to snap photographs when welcoming or seeing off military members.

Chris Hastert, Airport General Manager, said the space that’s situated in the waiting area is often used by military families that pose for pictures in front of the flags.  “We see that a lot on our Facebook page,” Hastert said, adding airport management also has received positive feedback about the wall from community groups that stage military welcome home events at the facility.

The small airport greets numerous returning military members throughout the year, in part, because of its close proximity to Vandenberg Air Force Base.

About 30 people — close to half military veterans — gathered inside the terminal for Friday’s flag presentation. Capps told the group she specifically requested the flag be flown over Capitol Hill before bringing it to the Central Coast.

“I am honored to present this flag to be displayed on the military Wall of Honor,” she said. “This living tribute will serve as a reminder of all the men and women who have sacrificed to keep our country safe.”  The congresswoman also said the airport was the perfect home for the flag, which will be professionally encased and mounted on the wall.  “I don’t know of a city on the Central Coast that’s more patriotic than Santa Maria,” she added.

Rafferty got the idea for the wall after seeing a banner in the airport waiting area that read ‘Welcome Home.’  “If you weren’t looking up, you didn’t see it,” he said. “I thought it wasn’t good enough. We needed to do more.”  The Marine Corps veteran also said he was speechless when he learned Capps would be presenting the flag in person at the airport.  “It’s beyond words,” Rafferty said. “I expected to get a package in the mail.”

The Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and other community leaders also helped make the project become a reality. Funding — about $2,000 — for the wall was donated by local residents, Rafferty said.

Marty McGrath, a Navy veteran and member of the U.S. Marine Corps League, attended the flag presentation ceremony and said her heart swells with pride every time she looks at the Wall of Honor.  “This will be really nice,” McGrath said. “I love the size of that big (American) flag.”

December 21, 2013  •  April Charlton/acharlton@santamariatimes.com