published Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013

Donations pour in to get new flags for Veterans Bridge in Chattanooga

  • photo
    In this file photograph from 2006, Tim Marek makes his way across the flag lined Veterans Bridge while listening to his mp3 player.
    Photo by Dan Henry.
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Ten years ago, Scott McKenzie gave the city money to fly an American flag across Veterans Bridge when his father, a retired Coast Guard captain, turned 90.

Capt. R.T. Allen McKenzie, who piloted soldiers to the beaches of Iwo Jima and Okinawa during World War II, teared up when he was given a handmade certificate from his son announcing the dedication. Allen McKenzie framed the certificate and hung it in his study, often showing it off to guests.

Earlier this year, when Scott McKenzie’s dad turned 100 on Oct. 31, he asked the city if he could again honor his father in the same way.

This time, he was told that the city needed people to purchase the flags because private funds had stopped. For 10 years an anonymous donor gave nearly $55,000 to fly those flags across Veterans Bridge from May until November, a sight many Chattanoogans know as they drive across the bridge.

But the donor, who not even Transportation Department Director Blythe Bailey knows, stopped donating the flags this year.

Before Bailey could decide how the city would continue to pay for the long tradition, McKenzie suggested that city officials should let residents who want to honor veterans donate a flag in their name.

When Bailey announced the idea at the last City Council meeting, four people had given money for flags. During the meeting, Councilman Jerry Mitchell asked to be written down as the fifth donor.

In less than a week that number more than doubled, Bailey said. At least 14 residents have donated money; city officials expect at least 10 more contributions.

“I’m not really surprised that people are so enthusiastic,” he said. “It’s a way for citizens to be involved in the community and express their appreciation.”

Anyone can call the Transportation Department and pay $75 per flag and for that year a specific flag pole will be dedicated to a veteran. Donors will be able to identify which flag they donated.

This week, Scott McKenzie will take a certificate to his family reunion in Tampa, Fla., where his family will celebrate his father’s 100th birthday. The certificate states flag number E7 along the bridge is dedicated in his father’s honor.

“When you volunteer to give your life for your country and then that symbol of your country is dedicated back to you, it means a lot,” he said.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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