Vietnam veteran installs flags across hometown of Ashland

Posted May 25, 2011, at 2:21 p.m.

ASHLAND, Maine — The Stars and Stripes are plentiful in Ashland thanks to a local veteran’s generous contribution of dozens of flags for use throughout the community in the weeks and months ahead.

Ronald Rushinal, a veteran of Vietnam who served five and a half years in the Army as a helicopter door gunner and crew chief, was approached earlier this year about assisting with the replacement of about a dozen flags in town. After giving it some consideration, he decided to do more.

“I’m a life member of the Ashland VFW. Three guys asked me if I’d be interested in buying 12 new flags to replace several worn ones in the community — flags due to be taken down and destroyed, due to their tattered condition. I thought it was a worthwhile idea,” said Rushinal.

Since then, he’s made trips downstate to acquire new ones.

“I’ve been down to Milo twice, picking them up as new flags came in. I started with 20 at first, then ordered another 50,” he said.

Working primarily alone, Rushinal was assisted on at least one occasion by a local youth in installing flags throughout Ashland. From Route 163 entering town to Route 11 heading out of town toward the Aroostook River and a few other sections of town, new banners wave from numerous utility poles, lending an air of patriotism to Ashland.

“Before, flags were hung at varying heights; there was no uniformity. In the military, everything is done exact. So I measured and put each at eight feet. Unfortunately, a few local youth have already vandalized one, so the police chief suggested I raise them to 10 feet,” said Rushinal, noting he plans to move a few at a time, as the weather permits.

Rushinal said it took him about 20 hours and several days to install the 70 flags.

“I had to work around the rain, putting up flags when it dried a bit,” he said.

At $40 apiece, Rushinal has invested about $2,800 in just the flags, not counting the poles, brackets and time involved to install them. He said money wasn’t a factor; he was glad to be able to do it.

“I don’t need the recognition. I’m just helping out the town,” said Rushinal.

Having volunteered for the draft, he said coming back to the U.S. after Vietnam wasn’t a pleasant experience. Rushinal said he wanted other veterans returning to the area to know they are appreciated. The flags help express that feeling of appreciation.

“I volunteered for Vietnam — signed up in Caribou. I remember what it was like coming back, the negativity towards us. I want veterans today to know we’re proud of them,” he said.

“I worked road crew for the state of Maine and retired in 2007,” said Rushinal, acknowledging he’s spent much of his life serving others, as he tried to live up to a quote from President John F. Kennedy. “I’ve always remembered Kennedy’s quote of ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ I had that in mind when I bought the flags.”

Rushinal said he doesn’t mind helping out his hometown.

“Somebody’s got to step up to the plate and help out. I guess it was my turn,” said Rushinal.

Plans are to leave the flags up through Labor Day, and then put them up again Nov. 1.

“They’ll be up in time for Veteran’s Day, then taken down again around Thanksgiving. They’ll be washed and stored in a vacuum bag, ready to put up again next year,” Rushinal said.

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