Local icon inspired by Iwo Jima photo
Heavy construction contractor Mike Murray wants no credit for the prominent American flag standing sentry at the westerly entrance to El Dorado Hills — a symbol of community patriotism that’s visible for miles in each direction.
We can allow that modesty for the current, properly anchored and regulation-compliant national standard which Blue Shield installed on the hilltop between its offices and the freeway ramp.
But Murray, who lives in El Dorado Hills, gets no such pass for the much-larger original, which he and his construction crew cobbled together and raised during the turbulent days following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Eleven-plus years later, wounded and fallen warriors are still returning from the conflicts stemming from the events of that day, events which first shocked, then unified a nation adrift in uncharted waters.
Veterans Day 2012 falls five days after a bitter and divisive presidential election. It seems like a good time to recall how El Dorado Hills got its flag.
Murray’s construction company, Yubacon Inc., built the southbound Latrobe Road exit off Highway 50 in 2001. He recalls the horror and helplessness of the events of Sept. 11, and how the emotional turmoil that followed left him wanting to do something, to make some sort of statement of defiance and inspiration for his community.
He had a recurring vision of the flag-raising at Iwo Jima, the iconic Joe Rosenthal photo of the Marines bent to the task with the battle still raging at their backs, a symbolic act that sent a message to their fellow soldiers and to the enemy.
A big flag on the hill above the new ramp might have the same effect. He knew that a proper flag mounting would require meetings, approvals, permits and expensive flagpoles mounted to specifications, maybe even plaques and dignitaries. It would take months. He wasn’t willing to wait.
He and his crew had the materials and know-how to put up a honkin’ flagpole. Town Center magnate Tony Mansour and his son Louis thought it was a great idea, and encouraged Murray to tap electricity from their nearby monument sign to illuminate the flag.
Blue Shield owns the hilltop. The company’s management recognized the plan as unconventional, but also saw the power of the proposed symbol. “They told us to go for it,” said Murray.
One of his crew had a family member working at a flag company. He put in a rush order for a big one. A couple of days and $1,000 later, Old Glory arrived, all 15 feet by 25 feet of her.
Murray and his eight-man crew dedicated a day to the flagpole. The materials at hand were expensive, but he was confident they were up to the task: three 25-foot lengths of threaded pipe made of high-grade drill steel, 4 inches in diameter. The crew welded the sections together, and also welded the requisite pulleys and cleats for the rope, and industrial strength eyelets for guide wires.
The makeshift flagpole’s ad hoc foundation consisted of a 5-foot-deep hole in the ground, created with a specialized drill normally used to place explosives. They also drilled anchors for the guide wires that held the finished product in place.
They pushed their makeshift flagpole upright with an excavator, tensioned the guide wires and pushed boulders against the base as a finishing touch.
“It was a full day’s work,” recalled Murray.
The flag went up late that afternoon. The results stopped traffic on Highway 50. Commuters got out of their cars to cheer, take pictures or simply shake their fist in defiance. “It was pretty awesome,” said Murray.
The flag was the subject of numerous local media pieces, resulting in hundreds of e-mails and letters of appreciation.
“It really seemed to touch people,” he said.
Within three months the winter winds tattered the huge flag. Murray purchased a replacement, but found the as-yet-unused rope and pulley system locked up solid.
“I had to shimmy up there to free it,” he recalled. Another traffic problem ensued.
He replaced the flag one more time before the county asked Blue Shield to replace it with a proper foundation, a 45-foot tall regulation flagpole and smaller flag that stand on the hilltop today.
Murray had no hard feelings. His effort was a reaction to a once-in-a-lifetime event. The community and the country had moved on.
After a Village Life interview and photo session, Murray gave one of the original oversized flags to Tony and Louis Mansour, who hope to display it in the California Welcome Center.
Special thanks to Town Center Marketing Director Natlie Buerke for suggesting this story to Village Life. Send your ideas for inspirational local stories to [email protected]