Judith Gap Flag Day catches national spotlight

By: 
Jenny Gessaman
Reporter
Judith Gap children salute the flag.
Only three years after it started, Judith Gap’s Flags on Main Street program has garnered national attention. The main street flag raising put on by local American Legion Auxiliary and American Legion members will be featured in a short video at this year’s national American Legion Auxiliary National Convention.

John Paulsel, owner of Highpoint Productions, filmed Auxiliary members hoisting the nation’s banner on main street’s businesses and homes on Flag Day. The videographer has produced work for the Auxiliary’s national convention since 1986, but said this footage was part of a recent addition: For the last five years, the organization has featured “vignettes” about individual auxiliary units.

“They’re the base layer of our organization,” Paulsel said.

He has traveled the country, from Alaska to Arizona, to create the videos, but attributed Judith Gap’s selection to the nature of the project.

“We wanted to tell the story about this program because it’s a real simple one; it doesn’t take a million people to do it, but it’s very effective,” Paulsel said.

The small town flags first hit national radar when they went viral on Facebook, according to Paulsel. Local Unit President Fran Allen remembers the post that sent the project beyond town limits. She said a passerby noticed Judith Gap’s patriotic spirit and posted photos to the Facebook page, “You know you’re from Montana when.” Others shared the post, sending it across the internet and the U.S to the attention of American Legion Auxiliary headquarters.

“When they saw this coming in on the internet and saw so many people passing it on, they said, ‘Hey, this is what we want to do.’” Allen said.

She described Flags on Main Street as a simple project with reverential beginnings. It started in 2014 when the local Legion and Auxiliary lost five World-War-II-era members, and all five families donated memorial donations to the groups. Auxiliary member Judy Lode remembered considering how to spend the funds.

“We kept trying to figure something to do with that money,” she said. “We didn’t want to just spend it on everyday things.”

Now Allen and her unit, with the help of the American Legion, have a flag holder on almost every main street home and business. On special days, including Flag Day and Fourth of July, members set out flags to decorate the town. When most of the street’s residents agreed to help, Allen was excited.

“That tickled us,” she said. “That made us feel really good that everybody wanted to show their patriotism,” she said.

In addition to this year’s video, Flags on Main Street won the American Legion Auxiliary Americanism Award last year. Despite the recognition, Allen and her organization plan to keep the tradition going just the way it is, including the Judith Gap winds.

“If it’s a really windy day, they stay up for two or three hours,” local Legion Commander Larry Hajenga laughed.

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