Artist picks Hurlock Legion for American flag

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Special to Dorchester Banner/Susan M. Bautz
Proud members of Hurlock American Legion post 243 include: Front row, seated from left: Geraldine Larrimore, Tom Keplinger, Richard Leader and Roper. Rear: Rick Price, Earl Ekas, Jack Lewis, the Rev. Ron James, Phil Simmons, Roy Lare, Michael McGee, and Victor Peranio.

HURLOCK — Nothing says America like the American flag. Hurlock’s American Legion Post 243 is the only Legion post in Maryland sporting a wall-size flag painted by an artist dedicated to sending his message of pride in his country and the men and women who serve it.

Phil Simmons, a founder of Post 243, says, “I don’t know how it got selected. But a guy called here two weeks ago and said ‘your legion has been selected to have a flag painted on the wall.’ I said ‘well I can’t give you permission to do that. First, I’d like to see it.’ I gave him my e-mail address and he e-mailed me a picture and when I saw it, he called me back, and I said ‘paint it.’ The next day I came down to the Legion, got all the officers together, and said, ‘this is what our wall’s going to look like’ and everybody said, ‘go for it.’”

The “guy” turned out to be nationally-known artist – Scott LoBaido, a 4th generation New Yorker raised on Staten Island whose unique works of art spring from his roots in a proud, patriotic community. Scott paints flags – everywhere.

Twenty-five years ago he began painting the flag on local businesses; each one distinct. Schools, police stations and firehouses began commissioning his work. And, he says, before he knew it, he had “painted on cars, boats and even broken the record for the biggest flag ever painted on a warehouse in Texas.” That project required 900 gals. of paint.

During a 10-month tour in 2006, he painted the flag on the rooftops of hospitals, stores, churches, and homes in every state of the Union. In 2015 his challenge is painting the flag on one veterans’ post in every state. On his website he says, “I’m dedicating 6 months to this tour not only to promote the glory of old glory, but also to thank the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifices for our freedom.” He adds, “As an artist, I cherish my First Amendment right to express myself, and those who served gave me this gift. I’m just going around and saying thank you.”

Following their weekly Friday morning program, “Vets Helping Vets,” Hurlock Post 243 members Phil Simmons, post Commander Victor Peranio, post co-founder the Rev. Ron James, Earl Ekas, Richard Leader, Tom Keplinger, Roy Lare, Geraldine Larrimore, post co-founder Michael McGee, and Jack Lewis explained to The Banner just what the American Legion offers and why the flag on the side of their building makes them proud. Mr. Leader said, “I think it’s pretty special. It’s the only one in the state of Maryland.”

Also special is Home Depot. Scott’s Flags Across America program is sponsored in part by the Home Depot and Behr paints and the artist takes no compensation. In a chat with Legion member and Hurlock Council Member Bonnie Franz, Scott said he and a friend research towns on the internet that have American Legion or VFW post buildings. Ms. Franz explains that, “Hurlock caught their eye and was picked because of the corner location where people can ride by and see the flag.” The pair appreciated the large expanse of green grass next to the wall as well.

Aside from the honor of being selected, the vets in the Friday program hope the flag draws attention to the post. Mr. Simmons says, “We hope it will draw people to come in and help get our membership up. We and the VFW need membership. The young guys coming back now aren’t joining. Probably for the same reason we didn’t join as Vietnam vets. We just wanted to get away from the service and get away from whatever happened and we didn’t want to remember it. But it doesn’t go away until a few years later. Then you think ‘you know, I should join and support the American Legion and the VFW.’”

Phil Lare adds, “They think it’s an ‘old man’s’ organization.”

Mr. Leader notes, “You’re exactly right. The new fellows that are coming back don’t come back to this group. They say they can’t relate to us because we’re too old. But, a war is a war is a war … Somehow we have to bridge that gap between them and us. And let them know that a war may use different implements or armaments but it’s still a war. And we saw and did the same things that they did.”

The vets’ goal is helping other vets transition from the world of fighting wars to the world they left – to family, friends, and circumstances that have often drastically changed. They are driven to make it easier for veterans to find relief from often overwhelming problems. On Mondays at 12:30 p.m. they offer a radio program on 1240 WCEM in Cambridge. The group chuckles when they explain that their program airs after a veterinarian show. “The Vets are on before the vets.”

The American Legion and VFW donated some funds and, Mr. Simmons says, the efforts are reaching vets. “Even on the Western Shore at the Veterans’ hospital they’ve heard about us. We talk about several benefits that vets are entitled to. We tell them if you don’t know what you’re entitled to, come (to the Friday morning program). We can’t give benefits to you but we can point you in the right direction. Many people don’t know what they’re entitled to.”

One such veteran is Richard Leader. He told The Banner that he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and is deemed totally disabled with diabetes. Until four years ago he seldom left his house. A handsome Belgian Malinoise named Roper changed his life. The black and tan service dog monitors his sugar levels. “When my sugar acts up he licks my hand where I stick myself and keeps bugging me.” And Roper is always right. He serves as a calming influence on the Vietnam vet’s PTSD flare-ups as well.

When Ms. Franz asked Mr. LoBaido why he paints, his answer was simple and direct: God gave him the talent so he was going to use it. She says he loves the American flag and even rides in a vehicle named Betsy that is painted with the flag. “I was very honored to meet him and shake his hand (and get a hug).”

Home Depot employees prepare the area a few days before Scott arrives to paint the mural which takes 1-3 days depending on weather and size. The Home Depot supplies ladders and boom lifts (if needed) and Behr supplies the gallons of paint.

The work is physically demanding. But despite the difficulty Scott is “mentally recharged and inspired by the veterans he meets along the way” and “leaving patriotic artwork behind to help spread appreciation for veterans is what makes this tour so special.”

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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