Stella Waltz, owner of JES Foundation Repair in Virginia Beach (offices serving Virginia, DC, Maryland and North Carolina), knows how to honor the American flag. She was inspired to begin teaching local organizations, groups and schools after 9/11. Ever since, she has become an expert in proper flag retirement as well as flag history and etiquette.
Virginia Beach, VA - September 12, 2014
Stella Waltz, owner of JES Foundation Repair
Flag Lady Inspires Patriotism, Teaches Respect on the 200th Anniversary of The Star-Spangled Banner
September 11, 2001 changed everything. Thirteen years later, the date serves as a powerful reminder of our ineluctable vulnerability as a nation, and our steadfast resilience in the face of unimaginable atrocities. Our country was violated; however, it was not—under any circumstances—defeated. The American flag hovering defiantly over what would be remembered as Ground Zero, provided a poignant depiction of our collective resolve: Hurt but hopeful.
For many Americans, including Stella Waltz, 9/11 renewed her family’s sense of pride in flying the flag.
“We often flew the [American] flag from a bracket somewhere on our house, but after that day, we began to fly it daily. Whenever our flags would become faded and worn, we would replace them. The old ones would be folded and tucked away in a drawer because we couldn’t bear to toss them out, and we didn’t know what else to do with them.”
Waltz, a local entrepreneur who owns JES Foundation Repair along with her husband, Jesse Waltz, became overwhelmed as the flags claimed more and more space in their home.
“There were drawers full of flags at the house,” she recalled. “I began thinking that Jesse and I couldn’t be the only people who ‘had this problem’—old flags lying around because the thought of throwing them in the trash was simply not an option.”
Always one to be proactive, Waltz suggested using the JES Foundation Repair office in Virginia Beach as a collection site for old flags. And just like that, her new passion was born.
She began encouraging local residents to bring their old, tattered flags to the company’s headquarters, and she made sure each one received proper retirement. She also learned about different groups that respectfully retired old flags, among them the Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts of America, Veterans of Foreign War posts and American Legion groups.
“We could see the relief on people’s faces once they handed us their flags. They were noticeably proud about doing the right thing. I felt honored to provide this service.”
But she didn’t stop there.
“I became markedly interested in information about our flag’s history and flag etiquette. I was drawn to anything related to the flag.”
Her growing curiosity was only natural. The daughter of a World War II veteran, Waltz was taught at an early age the importance of handling the flag with respect. As a 19-year-old sailor, her father was among the first wave of troops that stormed the beaches at Normandy. He spent his 20th birthday at Iwo Jima where there was no time to celebrate because they “had an island to capture.” An influential force in her life, the former navy chief would vividly recall moments of sacrifice witnessed during battle.
“I remember my parents, who met a few years after the war ended, sharing incredible stories—dad’s experiences with the Navy’s Pacific Campaign and mom’s experiences on the home front.”
Her mother spoke of nights where she would pull down blackened window shades “to make it harder for the enemy to find its targets.” Compelling recollections such as these left a lasting impression on Waltz. She has held the flag and those who fought for its sake, in great esteem since childhood.
“Our armed forces defend our freedoms and ensure the flag continues to fly. When I see the flag, a powerful feeling surges through me. You don’t have to walk in other people’s shoes to appreciate and value what they have been through, and in this case—everything they have done for you and your family in the spirit of selflessness.”
Proper flag retirement, as well as teaching flag history and etiquette, has become a personal mission for Waltz who speaks on the topics for free to local groups and organizations. She does not charge for her services noting her once-hobby turned heartfelt endeavor is a worthy enough pursuit. The history behind the American flag, she says, is often limited in school instruction because teachers have so much in their curriculum, but a wealth of fascinating information exists.
“I especially enjoy visiting schools to teach children about the flag and what it truly represents. Most of us know the flag consists of 13 stripes (seven are red, six white) that represent the 13 original colonies and 50 stars for every state in the Union,” Waltz stated emphatically. “But our country’s legacy goes well beyond this fact.”
A legacy she passionately delves into during her presentations, which can cover anything from flag etiquette to the history of our national anthem. This year marks the 200th anniversary of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. Originally named “The Defence of Fort M’Henry”, the words were written by 35-year-old lawyer and poet, Francis Scott Key, after a British bombardment of Baltimore’s Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. Key, who was being held as a prisoner of war at the time, was so inspired by the American flag flying afterwards that he penned the first of four verses—the words we sing today—on-site. His impassioned lyrics were set to “The Anacreontic Song” (also known as “To Anacreon in Heaven”), a popular tune in Britain as well as the U.S. at the time. Recognized in 1889 for official use by the Army and the Navy and in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson, “The Star-Spangled Banner” became our national anthem in 1931 based on a congressional resolution which was signed by President Herbert Hoover.
“I think I help fill in the gaps,” Waltz shared. “It’s important that young people and adults who are asked to stand and sing our national anthem know the history and significance of it. What is a rampart? Why is the song timed with a sunrise and speak of a sunset? What does gallantly mean?”
Waltz is well-versed in flag protocol including rules for the handling, displaying and retiring of “Old Glory” as specified in the U.S. Code. Although many people do not readily understand how to appropriately interact with the flag, according to Waltz, one thing is for sure, “Our flag should always be given honor and handled with dignity. There are no exceptions.”
Her sentiments are representative of many a proud American. Patriotism is palpable as the anniversaries of 9/11 and “The Star-Spangled Banner” are upon us, marking periods of tragedy and triumph. Our broad stripes and bright stars are to be celebrated, and for those interested in going beyond mere symbolism, Stella Waltz is more than ready to deliver an all-American lesson to anyone who wishes to listen.