After more than 35 years of driving around, replacing worn or missing flags, Lindenwood resident and “flag man” Dominick Papa is ready to retire at 87 years old and is looking for someone else to take on the job.
Papa, who has donated more than 4,000 new Star-Spangled Banners to cemeteries, fire stations, homes and businesses throughout New York, said he’s tired. However, he doesn’t want this act of patriotism to stop with him.
“I’m trying to get somebody to take my place,” Papa said. “I feel that I have contributed enough … I think I deserve a retirement.”
Papa said being a flag hunter is fulfilling and comes with many benefits, such as making friends and “not being able to get a ticket if [you] tried.”
Another benefit of the job is making people happy, he said.
Papa recalls a widow from the Rockaways who asked him to donate or replace a ruined flag with her late husband’s flag, which sat in his chair. She was unsure of where she wanted the flag to be donated. When Papa went over to her house to pick it up, he noticed there was a school across the street from her house with a tattered one that needed to be replaced.
“I noticed the school,” Papa said. “I asked her ‘do you want to see your husband’s flag every day?’”
The widow said yes and Papa retired the school’s tattered flag, replacing it with the one the widow donated. To this day, that story brings tears to Papa’s eyes.
He began buying and donating Stars and Stripes “out of the goodness of his heart” because he thought people and businesses didn’t have the time (or money) to replace their own tattered flags.
After replacing the unserviceable flags with ones that are intact, he would hand them over to the Boy Scouts to dispose of them. The Boy Scouts of America dispose of worn flags by burning them in a flag retirement ceremony.
The World War II veteran, who was born in Pittsburgh and moved to Howard Beach in 1975, began his crusade to replace tattered flags after seeing two American flags tossed in a trash can.
“There’s no respect for flags. I walk around Rockwood Park and see how everyone fights to have a better lawn on Halloween, but on Flag Day you don’t even see a flag out,” Papa said in a 2012 article published by the Chronicle.
For the Navy SeaBee, the American flag is emblematic of the country for which he would have died — and for which many of those he knew in World War II did.
Last year, Papa told the Chronicle that after his time serving in the Navy, he kept up with military friends for decades, but many of those he knew in the service have passed away, and he often thinks of them every time he sees the flag. He hopes whoever slips into his shoes has a deep love and respect for our nation’s symbol, and Papa has some advice for that person.
“Don’t ask for money,” Papa said. “I didn’t do it for the money. If I did, I would’ve set up a stand.”