Overpass flags a passion for Milford business owner
By JERRY SMITH
Jun. 18, 2017
MILFORD, Del. (AP) — As Eli Valenzuela was tending to the American flag he put up on the overpass that overlooks Del. 1 on Tuesday near the Dover Air Force Base, a truck driver below honked his horn in support.
"There used to be a lot more of that," Valenzuela said. "Over the years it has kind of died down."
Valenzuela said he was so hurt by the Sept. 11 attacks that killed 2,996 people and injured more than 6,000 more, he had to do something to honor those who died and also those who "tirelessly" serve to keep America safe.
The founder and chairman of First State Manufacturing in Milford said he knew right away what he had to do. So the next day, he bought two American flags, had his employees sew grommets around the edges and secured the flags on the fences of each side of the Old Lebanon Road overpass near Dover Air Force Base.
"The fact that our company has been able to donate flags in the aftermath of Sept. 11 until forever is just one small way to say 'thank you'," Valenzuela said. "As a veteran, I appreciate what our service men and women go through to do their jobs. Their service to this country and the sacrifices that accompany it is immeasurable. So many have given their very lives to defend our freedom."
Valenzuela said whenever the two flags near Dover Air Force Base and two more he later put on poles near the Route 30 exit onto Del. 1, look weather-beaten, faded or tattered in any way, he replaces them and properly retires the flags he removed.
He said that since the first flags were placed on overpass fences in 2001, his company has purchased $2,000 worth of replacement flags.
Whenever he replaces a flag, he takes one or both of his sons, Simon and Pedro, or his 10-year-old granddaughter Mia Littlejohn with him not only to assist, but also so they, too, can have that "sense of patriotism."
"It's important that they see patriotism, the love of our country and the love of our flag," he said.
And they aren't the only ones, Valenzuela contends.
"When I put up the flags on Sept. 12, 2001, so many people honked and gave a thumbs up in support or rolled down their windows and said thank you," he said. "Now most people don't seem to care. And a few people even flip me off. I just don't get that."
Later in the day on Tuesday, Valenzuela and his granddaughter added two more flags to the growing number, these on the Thompsonville Road exit a few miles north of Milford. The plan was always to put flags on that exit, Valenzuela said.
"When they were finishing it, I knew there needed to be flags there," he said. "There is a lot of traffic, and with July 4th coming up, it's a perfect time and a perfect place."
Just below the overpass, at Hertrich Toyota of Milford, George Bennitt, 30, of New York, was looking at cars and saw Valenzuela placing the flags on the fence. Once he heard the story of why he was putting them up, he applauded the Milford businessman.
"I think it's great," said Bennitt, who just completed his schooling in the Navy Dental Corps and was in Delaware visiting his parents. "I live in New York City now and you just don't see patriotism like you used to. I think it's great that you get out of the big city and into little ole Delaware and you see the flag waving all over."