Honor aboard Harleys — Port Townsend man gets a new Old Glory

PORT TOWNSEND – A holiday gift from the heart left Don Ely brimming with tears, choked up and speechless.

Ely, whose U.S. flag was stolen from his porch in September, was surprised Wednesday morning when a Seattle and Port Townsend contingent of Patriot Guard Riders parked their Harley Davidsons and mini-vans in front of his Sheridan Street home.

They gave Ely a U.S. flag from his Air Force comrades in arms – all the way from Baghdad, Iraq.

It was a flag flown over Baghdad in Ely’s honor.

“This is I think one of the most honorable things that has ever happened to me,” Ely said after regaining his composure.

Ely retired from the Air Force with the rank of master sergeant and was Air Force reserve.

He also retired from the Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff’s Department where he worked as a forensic artist.

He and his wife, Jeannie, have lived in Port Townsend since 2004.

The stolen flag was his last tangible connection with his best friend, who gave it to him in 1968 before he was killed in combat in Vietnam.

The Riders, a national organization, were formed to show respect for fallen heroes of war, their families and communities, group members said.

“It’s a travesty that someone would steal a flag . . . You can’t let that sit,” said Army 1st Sgt. Nate Holmes, Rider member and Port Townsend resident who served in Iraq and is now Army reserve at home.

The Riders made a warm delivery to Ely in his front yard.

They gave him a U.S. flag in a case and a plaque to commemorate the occasion – all special delivery from the McChord Air Force Base Fuels Airmen serving in the 447th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron at Baghdad International Airport, Iraq.

Ely, who asked that the name of his friend, a military superior, remain anonymous out of respect, said that about a month after his friend was shipped off to Bien Hoa, South Vietnam, he died in the bloody Tet offensive, a turning point in the Vietnam War.

Ely, who has flown the flag at several Air Force bases over the years, said he still wishes he had it back.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it,” said Ely.

Ely told about the theft of the flag in a Sept. 23 letter to the Peninsula Daily News.

“My flag was the last physical object I had left of him to hold or observe and I flew it night and day in memory,” he said.

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