By Jodi Hersey
After a long work week, most of us are ready to relax and put our feet up, but not Mr. E. He heads straight to his wood shop to cut, sand, paint and assemble personalized wooden flags that he simply gives away. This Patriotic Secret Santa, who prefers to remain anonymous, creates these gifts of gratitude to honor and thank Maine’s veterans, service men and women, emergency responders and game wardens.
“It’s incredibly rewarding and great therapy for me,” said Mr. E. “I love the quiet woodshop time in this crazy time we all live in. What I’m doing should be the norm, not the exception. To say ‘Thank You’ to anyone who is a first responder or veteran or currently active in the military should be the norm.”
Mr. E, a longtime resident of Penobscot County, grew up in a generation that admired and respected anyone in uniform. He and his wife have passed on those traits to their children and grandkids who often help him distribute his works of art to unsuspecting recipients. Sometimes though, the family knows the recipient personally.
“The smiles, hugs and many times the tears that come with presenting a flag are all the reward I need,” Mr. E said. “I really feel this is all about the recipient and not about me, which is why I want to keep a low profile. I sometimes think I should be writing down the reactions and stories that have come from my flags. I can’t tell you how many tears I have shared with recipients.”
Mr. E has made and delivered over 200 flags. He pays for all the materials out of his own pocket and neither expects or wants anything in return.
Two of his flags have gone to the families of Somerset County Sheriff Corporal Eugene Cole and Maine State Police Detective Ben Campbell. Cole was shot and killed on the job in 2018. Campbell was struck and killed by a tractor trailer tire that separated from a logging truck traveling past him on I-95 as he was assisting a vehicle that slid off the interstate in Hampden in 2019.
“They are the reason I started this hobby,” he said. “Both died serving their communities. One died at the end of his career and the other nearer the beginning.”
One veteran and flag recipient who has left a lasting impression on Mr. E is a man named Maurice.
“He is a paraplegic. He was a team leader on a security force charged with protecting a general. The motorcade came under attack. The general was unharmed but he lost two of his troops and he, himself, was severely wounded. He, as any good team leader would, blames himself. But he’s not sitting around doing nothing. He has an incredible mind and works with adaptive companies that design and build equipment for disabled veterans,” Mr. E explained. “He also does a lot of sewing and he came into my store and told me he had some reusable masks for me, camo material of course. He said he was only making them for friends and family and that included me. I’m crying now just thinking about it. I am considered part of ‘his friends and family’ and all I did was thank him for his service.”
Paul Gauvin, a retired member of the Air National Guard and Sergeant with the Brewer Police Department has one of Mr. E’s creations on display at his home.
“It was a surprise to me. It caught me off guard. I’ve been in law enforcement for over 25 years and it’s the first time I’ve ever received something like that,” Gauvin shared. “I’ve seen the changes in law enforcement. I remember where I was on September 11, and the reaction I got back then was good but now it’s not so good. People like [Mr. E] have never ever wavered and that’s a testament to his generation.”
Many of Mr. E’s flags can be seen at the Lincoln Town Office, Penobscot Valley Hospital, American Legion buildings and various businesses in and around Penobscot County.
“He does beautiful work and it’s so meaningful,” Gauvin said.
Mr. E hopes Sgt. Gauvin and others like him don’t have to wait another 25 years to hear thank you.
“I feel we need to get back to common respect and appreciation. If someone, just one person a day, sees one of my flags out in public and thinks about thanking a first responder, veteran or an active duty military member, then I have made a little difference,” Mr. E said.
For now, he will keep whittling away, creating one flag at a time for those who have sacrificed so much, hoping his small present can show others how appreciative we all should be to those in uniform.
“I have more to make than I have time for,” Mr. E said. “Maybe someday, when I retire, I can make it more of a full-time endeavor.”
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