Patriotic Trash Man Rescues Flags

June 16, 2009 at 7:02 am | Posted in News | Leave a comment

flagAccording to USA Today, Illinois garbage collector Jeff Olsen keeps an eye open for the stars and stripes while making his daily rounds:

“Whenever he sees a U.S. flag in the trash, Olsen retrieves it and takes it back to Waste Management offices in this Chicago suburb. He has rescued more than 250 flags in the past 18 months.”

Soon after Olsen was hired in 2005, a coworker showed him a “battered flag” he had rescued from the trash. The coworker told Olsen that he and fellow army veterans were highly offended by the number of flags they typically found in people’s trash. Canadian-born Olsen decided to make rescuing flags his personal mission. American Legion Post 57 and Elks Lodge 737 honored him on Flag Day, which was two days ago.

“Flags collected by Olsen and other Waste Management drivers go into a box. When it’s full, the flags are taken to the American Legion. Don Sleeman, Post 57’s adjutant, says enough flags to fill a 35-gallon container 40 times are dropped off every year. Flags made of cotton or wool are burned in disposal ceremonies; those made of synthetic materials go to a local crematorium, which incinerates them for free.

“Some people know how to properly discard flags, Sleeman says, but others ‘don’t respect the flag, or they are ignorant of what to do with it.’ The American Legion distributes pamphlets on flag etiquette, and members visit schools to tell fifth- and sixth-graders about the flag’s history and appropriate care.

“Mike Schuiteman, Olsen’s supervisor, says drivers aren’t allowed to scavenge items from the garbage they collect, but flags are an exception. ‘All our drivers have gotten together to do this,’ he says. ‘They realize this is a symbol of our nation.’

“Olsen’s wife, Stacie, a former Army medic, helped him understand the flag’s importance….

“Several found flags are on display at the Waste Management facility; Olsen has one in his garage, next to a Canadian flag.

“‘It’s the symbol of our nation, so you have to take care of it,’ Olsen says.”

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