HOPEDALE – Thousands of American flags line the streets in a tiny central Illinois village where residents are preparing to bid a final farewell to a U.S. Marine killed during a fighter jet crash.
More than 100 volunteers turned out in Hopedale, a Tazewell County town of about 850, on Thursday to plant 2,380 flags along 12 miles of highway in honor of 32-year-old Capt. Reid Nannen, who died March 1 when his jet crashed during a training exercise in Nevada.
Nannen’s funeral is today, and townspeople wanted to do something special for their native son. Nannen, who is survived by a wife and four children, was stationed in Japan with the Marines, but was on temporary duty at the U.S. Navy’s “Top Gun” school in Nevada.
The effort was organized by Larry Eckhardt of Little York, a town about 100 miles northwest of Hopedale. Known as “the Flagman” because of the temporary memorials he coordinates around the Midwest, Eckhardt said he was greeted warmly by Hopedale residents.
“At their absolute worst time, they’ve lost a big part of their community, and I ask for volunteers. Boom, they’re there,” Eckhardt, 57, told the (Peoria) Journal Star. “These people really do care.”
“In Hopedale, all you have to do is ask for something and you get it,” said Village Clerk Paula Gregory.
Eckhardt said there is no significance to the number of flags; they’re just the number he has bought or received as donations.
Volunteers from Hopedale and surrounding communities planted the 3-by-5-foot flags affixed to 10-foot poles every few yards in the village, then continued for about 10 miles to Olympia High School in Stanford. Nannen graduated from the school in 2000, and his visitation was to be held there Friday.
His funeral will be at Eastview Christian Church in Normal.
Hopedale resident Linda Thomas said she helped because she “thought that it was a wonderful gesture for the family.”
“This family is so important to this community and were involved with everything,” she told The (Bloomington) Pantagraph. “It is such a tragedy and Reid did so much in such a short life.”
His sister, Bethany Nannen, said the family is “just humbled beyond belief.”