PORT ANGELES — Four American Legion riders on an “Epic Ride for Dignity and Remembrance” presented a special flag to Betsy Reed Schultz at the house she is converting into a haven for others who have lost loved ones in combat.
Schultz began the project to create the nation’s first Gold Star family retreat after her son, Army Special Operations Capt. Joseph Schultz, 36, was killed May 29, 2011, in Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device while on patrol.
The Epic Riders — who were nearing the last leg of a 13,000 trip as they return to Salinas, Calif. — and members of Port Angeles-based American Legion Post 29 presented Schultz a KIA Honor flag on Saturday evening at the Captain Joseph House at 1108 S. Oak St.
“I thank you for coming, for sharing this flag,” Schultz responded.
“I accept it on behalf of the families who will come to the Captain Joseph House.
“It is for all of them.”
The flag was signed by the riders and others in attendance before the brief ceremony.
During the ceremony, one of the four California riders — Rick “Phin” Phinney — explained the meaning of the flag, which was designed by a Vietnam veteran.
The red color of the flag symbolizes “sacred blood shed,” he said, while the black letters represent mourning. The phrase, “the brave and the free,” mentions the brave first “because without the brave there is no guarantee we would remain free,” he said.
Near the words, “All Gave Some, Some Gave All,” is a silhouette of a soldier with a star on his chest. He is going back to retrieve his fallen comrade because of a “strong ethic that no man is left behind,” Phinney said.
“Today is a day of mixed emotions,” of both grief and love, he said before the flag was ceremonially folded to show the solider with the star on the front.
The Epic Riders — Phinney, Hy “Crash” Libby, Rick “Shameless” De Arana and Alfredo “Go-Go” Gomez — are raising funds for a veterans cemetery on the central coast of California and have joined forces with the KIA Honor Flag Organization. They figure they have presented about 20 KIA flags to Gold Star families during their 31-state circumnavigation of the country.
Gold Star families are parents, siblings, children and spouses of service members who died while on active duty during wartime in the military.
Visitors Saturday were invited to tour the inside of the Captain Joseph House, which is being converted from a 4,052-square-foot bed and breakfast to a respite for families of those who have died in combat since 2011.
Gold Star families will come — three at a time — to Captain Joseph House for week-long stays with all expenses paid by the Captain Joseph House Foundation. They will be offered visits to some of nature sites in the area, interact with other families and be given any mental health and social services needed, Schultz has said.
Converting the house has taken much more time to accomplish than she had expected. Factors have been, she and her board members have said, that much of the work and materials have been donated or provided at low cost, with volunteers fitting work into their schedules. Also much work was needed to bring the 1910 house up to code.
“Almost everything is done,” Joe Borden, vice president of the foundation’s board, said Saturday.
Electricians and plumbers must finish their work and permits must be obtained.
Borden — while acknowledging that hopes have been dashed before — said that the present expectation is that the house will be open by the end of the year.
“We have 7,000 families on a waiting list,” he said.
Among those at Saturday’s ceremony were two women with sons now serving in combat zones: Amy Delabarre, who has a son in the Marines and Dorthe Porter, whose son is in the Air Force.
Both said they originally volunteered to work at the Captain Joseph House to support Schultz and then were gratified to find a bolstering community for themselves.
“It’s huge,” Delabarre said.
Schultz in her remarks mentioned these two members of Blue Star families, as well as three other volunteers with family members who have been deployed in the past three months.
”I pray you will never be a part of this club,” the Gold Star mother said to them.
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected].