World War II vet from Epsom raises money for new traffic circle flags

  • Navy veteran George Kelloway went door-to-door to local businesses, looking for money to help hang two new flags at the Epsom traffic circle. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 4/8/2016 9:23:08 PM

An 88-year-old veteran of World War II has taken it upon himself to become the personal caretaker of the flags that fly in Epsom’s traffic circle.

The two banners – an American flag and POW/MIA flag – are new and improved as of last month, when George Kelloway went door-to-door to local businesses looking for donations to buy larger, upgraded versions.

Kelloway, a Navy veteran who has lived in Epsom for four years, said there were a few things that troubled him whenever he went through the circle, which is dedicated to two police officers who grew up in Epsom and were killed in the line of duty.

Kelloway said the flags seemed small – more like a “house flag” than anything else – for their location in the middle of a large, state-owned traffic circle on a major east-west corridor.

He said: “Every time I go by the circle, I go, ‘You can’t even see it.’ It was getting tattered and torn, and when it had to be raised or lowered, there was no one around.”

That’s where he came in, at first trying to find out whose responsibility it was, and then beginning to climb up the hill to move it up and down from half-staff himself, without asking permission.

“It didn’t seem like anybody knew, so I said, ‘The hay with them,’ ” he said. “If the town wants to do something to me afterwards – what are they going to do to me? I’m 88 years old. They aren’t going to do nothing for me.”

Kelloway gets a text message alert whenever the flag is supposed to be lowered, and recently he’s been delegating his son to climb the hill and do the job, he said. He’s battling lung cancer, he said, and doesn’t feel as strong after he recently underwent a radiation treatment and reported for a stay in a Massachusetts hospital.

But Kelloway is a veteran after all, and he appears to be winning this battle, too.

“I had good reports,” he said. “My cancer’s getting smaller.”

The American flag tends to be given less respect these days, Kelloway said, but when it came time for his fundraising, he had no problem getting help from local businesses. It took him about two weeks to raise $265 for a set of flags and backups, he said.

“Now, when it’s blowing in the breeze out there, it really stands out,” he said.

Police Chief Wayne Preve said maintenance of the flags and the circle has been a community effort for a long time, with officers from his department sometimes stepping in to ensure the flags are raised or lowered.

When the circle was officially dedicated to officers Jeremy Charron and Michael Briggs, a group of volunteers said they’d take care of the area, but “it’s been kind of falling to the wayside every once in a while,” he said.

Between the Department of Transportation’s mowing, Kelloway, and others, such as Mike Dempsey and his Nam Knights of America Motorcycle Club, someone always seems ready to step in and spruce up, the chief said.

“It’s a big community kind of thing, you know? Everybody tries to do their part and take care of it,” he said.

That includes the occasional reminder during political seasons to keep campaign signs out of the center circle, he said. The outskirts are a popular location for road signs, since so much traffic passes through the circle, but police try to maintain the sanctity of the innermost part on behalf of Charron and Briggs, Preve said.

The chief said his officers will raise or lower the flag for memorials when they have the opportunity, but there have also been times when they’ve been busy and he’s still noticed it go up and down, “so I know someone’s doing it.”

“My hat’s off to (Kelloway) to take that upon himself and do that,” Preve said. “It was kind of a surprise. All of a sudden I meet him at a selectmen’s meeting, and he’s talking about what he’s done and what he wants to do. It’s like great, you know? That’s what we need.”

Kelloway, for his part, ended with a piece of advice. Whether it’s your health or your community, he said, it’s good to be proactive.

“You have to take it into your own hands. If you don’t, they’ll let it slide, and then it’s too late,” he said.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)

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