A U.S. Army veteran they call "Piper Dan" because of his bagpipe playing was sitting in his car along the Delaney Park Strip in downtown Anchorage last week when he spotted a construction rig with a long boom working on the old Unocal building.
And right then, Piper Dan had a big thought. Perhaps the boom truck could transform into a flagpole to fill a void at the Anchorage Veterans' Memorial over the Veterans Day weekend.
The old flagpole -- a 110-foot tall Sitka spruce -- snapped at the base during the September storms. The broken pole was hauled away. The lack of a flagpole has upset some veterans, especially those who live in the Anchorage Pioneer Home downtown and miss seeing the flag flapping in the wind.
The city is stepping up with a permanent fix, a new galvanized steel pole that will cost about $75,000 counting installation, Lindsey Whitt, spokesman for Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, said Sunday. The Anchorage Veterans' Memorial Committee has been raising funds to renovate the entire memorial, but hadn't budgeted for a new flagpole. The mayor's office said Sunday that unspent, year-end funds can go toward the flagpole. It is being ordered from the Lower 48. Horizon Lines will ship it for free, Whitt said.
But it won't be in place until next year, maybe not until the spring thaw though city crews think they may be able to erect it sooner.
No big flag was destined to fly for Veterans Day until Piper Dan -- Dan Henderson -- got moving.
"There was this truck with this big beam on the back and the dadgum thing was higher than the dang building," Henderson said, recalling the scene from last week. "And I'm going, 'my God, there's our flag pole.' "
The boom truck belongs to Criterion General Inc., the contractor working all summer and fall on a major remodel of the old Unocal building on Ninth Avenue.
"I went over and ran down the owner to see if there was any way they could move that little turkey over to the Park Strip for the weekend, and we could put a flag up the thing."
"I told him it was no problem," Dave DeRoberts, Criterion General president, said. Henderson just needed to get proper permits from the city. Henderson did.
On Saturday morning, Criterion's boom truck parked at the Veterans' Memorial. A Criterion worker, a young Marine veteran who served in Afghanistan, hoisted a big American flag provided by the city up a rope secured at one end to the raised boom and to the hand rail on the flag stand at the other.
Henderson, who was stationed at Fort Wainwright for three years during the Vietnam War, played "Flight of the Eaglets" on his bagpipes.
Another man who had also planned to erect a temporary flagpole showed up Saturday and will probably get his pole in place after the boom truck goes back to work, Henderson said. DeRoberts said he hoped to keep the rig with the flag parked at the memorial all day Monday, the official holiday.
DeRoberts, who lives in the Valley, drove into Anchorage on Sunday to make sure the flag was flying right.
Henderson, 70, is taking the flag project seriously, too. He camped Saturday night at the Park Strip and was set up to repeat that Sunday night. He and his two dogs, Rudy and Fergie, were sleeping in his Honda.
"Me and two little doggies, we're sitting right here and we can watch that baby tonight. We're not going to let some crazy kids come and unhook the flag and mess around with that stuff outside there."
Reach Lisa Demer at email@example.com or 257-4390.