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D-Day flag is a treasured memento for Mass. family

June 9, 2013

CHELMSFORD, Mass. (AP) — When American troops were storming the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, the American flag in the hallway of the Bartos home was there, flying over an infantry ship as it made 11 crossings of the English Channel.

The history and importance of the weathered flag may not have been considered much in the decades later. Evidence suggests it might have been used in front of a vehicle’s radiator or vent, based on parallel markings that can’t be erased.

It was wrapped in a sheet and stored in a closet.

Matt Bartos, an English teacher at Chelmsford High School, never forgot about it.

“Growing up, it was always just sort of neat that that was our grandfather’s flag,” he said. “It was one of those things that we knew it was in the house but didn’t think about it all that much.”

Nearly a lifetime after the flag flew in World War II, it has been carefully conserved by Museum Textile Services, an Andover company that specializes in working on flags, quilts, old sports jerseys, dresses and more. Accumulated soot was removed and creases were smoothed, but edges are still tattered from years of being flown, and the wool will never again have its original off-white stripes.

After all, it is conservation, not restoration, said Camille Myers Breeze, founder and director of Museum Textile Services. Other chemicals that would have been needed for restoration could have been harmful to the flag, she said.

“What remains behind is a permanent chemical change in the form of discoloration,” Breeze said.

Bartos’ grandfather, Stanley Piotrowski, who died in 2007 at age 86, gave the flag to his mother, Barbara, to hold. For years, the Bartos family would only occasionally take the flag out. They considered having it folded into a triangle in the traditional military style and framed, but didn’t. When Piotrowski died, Barbara Bartos had the flag draped over his coffin.

Piotrowski, a U.S. Navy petty officer first class who worked in the ship’s engine room, was given the flag because he was close to the ship’s captain, Bartos said. Piotrowski then gave the flag to his daughter who lived nearby, in the Hartford, Conn., area, where Piotrowski worked as a foreman and inspector for Pratt & Whitney, an aerospace manufacturer.

The flag — 81 inches by 44 inches, with 48 stars for the then-48 states — hangs in an upstairs hallway, behind UV-protected glass on acid-free material in an 80-pound case.

Conserving a flag can take from 20 to 200 hours, Breeze said, but Bartos’ flag was not a major project.

“Despite its obvious damage, the flag is in good condition,” she said.

Wool can become brittle after time, so Museum Textile Services played it safe, cleaning the flag in conservative stages instead of using chemicals that could be harmful. The company used vulcanized rubber sponges and de-ionized water to get out whatever they could.

That’s why the flag still looks like something that’s been through decades of use and haphazard storage. The only difference may be that the flag’s white stripes are now grayish, instead of yellowish as before.

The flag’s tattered ends show it was flown for a long time, said Breeze, who liked that the flag was well-worn after its war days. “It’s a great example of the flag doing its job,” she said.

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