Just south of Great Falls in the back corner of the Highland Cemetery sits three flags that fly in remembrance over the veteran’s section, complete with a civil war cannon overlooking the gravestones.
This is a memorial a decade in the making by a group called "Raise the Flags for the Holidays."
Created in 2013, Vietnam veteran and VFW member Jim Porter made a commitment to himself while on the battlefield.
He said, “I had decided that when I came back from Vietnam that I was going to make a commitment. Any of these veterans that had fought and died for our freedom deserve to be under the beautiful stars and stripes.”
Along with two buddies, Dan McLaughlin and Burl Brawley, the trio founded the group and began raising money to upgrade the veteran’s section of the cemetery. A decade ago, all that sat in the section was a lonely flagpole. Through years of fundraising, the memorial has turned into something bigger. A lighting system was first installed, then through continued effort, the old US flag pole was replaced with a brand new pole along with two others that are now maintenance free with all cables are placed internally.
According to Jim, there was a time when the flags could not be raised during the patriotic holidays because of vandalism to the poles. When asked about the community's support of his dream of fixing up the memorial, Jim beamed.
He said, “This is a very patriotic state and a patriot city, and they definitely believe in their veterans. There has been so many donations, and I’m proud of what we got done.”
Jim has stepped down as director of the group and has since named Karen Atwell the new director. The fundraising efforts continue with a new project already in the works.
Among the flags sits an old Civil War, 8-inch Columbiad cannon from around 1887. It is the first monument in the United States dedicated to honor both the fallen soldiers of the "blue" (Union) and the "gray" (Confederacy).
The goal now is to create a bronze plaque that will sit at the base of the four sandstone tablets giving a brief history of the cannon and acknowledging the veterans. The current etching on the sandstone is eroding and the goal is to make it permanent. “The cannon was brought here to Montana and reminds us how important it is that we honor our veterans so that we never forget what they fought and died for.” Karen explained.
If you would like to make a donation to the group, "Raise the Flags for the Holidays" and the memorial, donations can be made to Stockman's Bank or contact Karen via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.