Char Merrill-Swalberg initially hoped to help place flags at gravesites at Fort McPherson National Cemetery this Memorial Day weekend
However, those plans changed due to social distancing guidelines.
So, Merrill-Swalberg came up with what she felt was the next best thing.
That is planting more than 12,000 miniature American flags on Sunday in an empty field just south of the AMC Classic North Platte 6 theater.
It is a response to Fort McPherson following the Department of Veteran’s Affairs decision to prohibit public events at national cemeteries over the holiday weekend.
That includes large groups placing flags at gravesites.
Merrill-Swalberg ask-ed if she and a small group of volunteers could place the flags in the cemetery but her offer was declined as well.
“Just because we can’t do it at the actual cemetery doesn’t mean that we can’t do it,” said Merrill-Swalberg, who heads the annual Operation Christmas Card project in North Platte for U.S. military troops
Merrill-Swalberg formulated her plans on Tuesday after receiving permission from the Platte River Mall property management to use the field this weekend.
She ordered 12,325 paper or cloth flags — from a company in Omaha on Wednesday night and expected to receive the shipment on Friday. The number of flags matches the individuals who are buried at Fort McPherson.
The flags are around 4½ inches by 3 inches and will be placed in an area of 152 feet by 82 feet.
The flags will be placed in 12 inch increments in the grid that is being marked out by volunteers.
Merrill-Swalberg also received public contributions to help cover the cost of the flags and other materials for the project. Individuals have also offered to help with the placement of the flags as well — a project that is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. on Sunday.
The plan is to have the flags on display until Tuesday.
“I have had a ton of people who have volunteered to help but because of the current health measures, we can’t gather in large numbers,” Merrill-Swalberg said. “I have encouraged people to drive by and if we have less than 10 (people) then by all means get out and help. We plan to be out there until we are done.””
Merrill-Swalberg has headed Operation Christmas Card — a project that sends holiday cards and care packages to troops deployed overseas — for the past four years.
This past year the group had a list of 200 names of military members to work from.
“Hopefully we will be able to raise enough in donations to be able to do that again this year,” Merrill-Swalberg said. “People have been hit hard with (the pandemic) so I am not sure if we will be able to get the donations that we normally do, but we are going to send out as many cards and care packages as we can.”