By Lucas Vader
On June 12, the Town of Orchard City had a visit from a Montrose man who has a reputation for giving away free American flags. This man, who has become known as the “Flag Man,” is Bill Babbel, a Vietnam veteran with a passion for patriotism.
Once or sometimes twice a year, Babbel finds a small community in the area and reaches out to the municipal government with an offer. He tells them he would like to park his truck somewhere in town, open up the back and hand out USA-made American porch flags to anyone who wants one, complete with a couple different brackets for sticking them on the side of a house.
Babbel tries to coincide his handouts with patriotic holidays during the summer season. Multiple times, he’s planned for a day shortly before Independence Day. This time, he was planning around Flag Day, which took place June 14.
Babbel pays for the flags with his own money. He gets them from Home Depot in Montrose for a bargain, regularly striking a deal with the manager.
“He says it’s his favorite project,” Babbel said. “These flags are about $15 apiece and he sells them to me for $5.50,” which is just a little over wholesale value for Home Depot.
According to Babbel, because of the lack of strings attached to what he does, he’s had issues with other towns being skeptical about his intentions. This has led to his offers being ignored by boards of trustees and councils for some time, though he’s always been able to get ahold of them eventually. He recalled his experience with Olathe and Nucla. “They say, ‘What’s the catch?’” Babbel said.
In the morning of his visit to Orchard City, Babbel set up in the parking lot of town hall, loaded with 300 flags, of which he intended to distribute every single one to the Orchard City area. About an hour and a half in, he had reportedly handed out about six dozen, but the pace was already slowing down.
Babbel wasn’t able to unload every flag that day, so he will be making a second visit next Friday, June 26, to finish his contribution to the area.
Babbel’s “other job,” as he put it, is donations of full-sized flagpoles, as well as installations of flags. He does this with his own funds out of pure respect for the American flag’s representation of freedom and his own history with the Air Force. As soon as he returned from Vietnam, he started putting these full-sized poles wherever he could, before later organizing porch flag handouts.
For his handout days, Babbel doesn’t get into advertising because he wishes for his events to be hyperlocal, set up in less populated areas such as Orchard City so that 300 flags can cover a much larger percentage of the residents. He aims to come in and provide a noticeable difference for an entire town.
By midmorning on June 12, the temperature had reached about 85 degrees, which wound up being a bit warmer than that on the asphalt of the parking lot. Babbel waited for people to come, which they did, as he sat under a shade umbrella he attached to the corner of the bed of his truck. Local residents would pull up in their vehicles, as directed for the sake of social distancing, and Babbel would hand them their sealed packaged flag. The receivers often asked him what the occasion was.
Each time, Babble initially replied, “It’s for you,” before reminding them that Sunday was Flag Day.
“I don’t ever ask for donations,” Babble said, “but if they give me money, it goes to the local (Welcome) Home Alliance (for Veterans).” He has a donation jar for that purpose, but he doesn’t bring it up to local residents and the jar isn’t in plain sight.
He had no set end time to his day but instead insisted, “I’ll stay until they stop coming.” He stayed until about 4 p.m.
When he returns next Friday, June 26, he will do the same thing. He’ll park in the Orchard City Town Hall parking lot and hand flags to everyone who drives in and wants one.