From sea to shining sea, Americans will salute the U.S. flag today as they celebrate the nation's 234th birthday.
Tom Geary of Eau Claire will join them - and proudly.
But what makes Geary, 48, stand out from the Fourth of July crowd is that the flag plays a starring role in his life on a daily basis, not just on a few patriotic holidays a year.
As the owner of Freedom Flag & Pole, Geary makes his living selling the Stars and Stripes, along with sports, state, military, religious and custom flags, as well as hundreds of accessories. But it's clear that the Red, White and Blue occupies a place of honor at the business and in the flag-waving owner's heart.
"We have incredible freedom in this country that is so unusual and so underappreciated," said Geary, who is proud to deal with the ultimate symbol of that freedom.
"It's very fun to have an emotional connection to what you do for a living."
Geary got his start in the business part time in 1991 when he was having a difficult time finding an appropriate flag to fly in a front yard display at his home after the Persian Gulf War. His father-in-law suggested Geary get into the business, and he took the advice to heart.
Sales have grown every year, even through the recent recession, and reached the point three years ago that Geary quit his job at UPS and made Freedom Flag a full-time gig. He and his wife, Ann, run the family-operated business out of their south side home, with contributions from all seven of their home-schooled children, who Geary hopes have learned a little about running a business along the way.
The firm, which offers 10,000 different products relating to flags and flag displays, sells flags to homeowners and businesses across the country through its website. But its primary niche involves serving veterans groups and the commercial market in western Wisconsin.
Tom Geary, whose father, C.T. Geary, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and the Air Force during the Korean War, said his admiration for the military runs deep.
"I stand in awe of those people who protect us," he said. "When I'm gone for a week it's hard, so I can't fathom the sacrifice those who serve in our military go through to keep our borders safe."
Surprisingly, the company enjoys only a small boost in sales around Independence Day and other patriotic holidays. Geary attributes that pattern to the pride and constant attention business owners devote to their flags, which leads them to replace flags on a regular basis before they begin to look overly faded or tattered.
However, he still responds to several calls around key holidays from panicky owners who need to replace a flag at the last minute.
Freedom Flag has supplied flags for patriotic community displays in Eau Claire, Lake Hallie, Cadott, Augusta, Fairchild and other Chippewa Valley towns. It also provides jumbo versions of Old Glory to all of the Perkins restaurants and Blain's Farm & Fleet stores across the country, Geary said.
"It's fun to be able to drive around and see your product," Ann Geary said. "Since a majority of the flags flying in the Chippewa Valley are from us, I get the pleasure of seeing them all the time."
The company's biggest seller to the commercial market is the 5-by-8-foot American flag, although the biggest flag in terms of size is 30 feet tall and 50 feet wide.
One of those 1,500-square-foot star-spangled banners flies proudly outside Wisconsin Metal Fab in Chippewa Falls, where owner Bob Meurer said the flag is popular photo backdrop among passersby.
Wisconsin Metal Fab has flown a flag at its 1875 Olson Drive location since the building was completed in 2000.
"We believe in the flag, in our country and people who are here," Meurer said. "It's to honor the service people that fought in the wars. They were out there protecting our freedoms of speech and religion and allowing us to live the lives we do."
Tom Geary considers his company an upscale provider, selling only made-in-the-USA nylon and polyester flags produced primarily by three major manufacturers.
Even the company name was chosen not just because it had patriotic ring to it but to reflect the Gearys' values, as the website makes clear.
"As Americans we are proud of our heritage," the website states. "The United States is unique in that our political order was established with the understanding that our government receives its powers from the consent of the people, and people receive their inalienable rights and freedoms from the hand of their Creator. Drawing upon this principle, we chose the name of our company."
Lindquist can be reached at 715-833-9209, 800-236-7077 or email@example.com.
Freedom Flag & Pole's website, www.freedomflagandpole.com, offers information on flag care and protocol along with details of its products.
Betsy Ross reported that she sewed the first American flag in May 1776, and on June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act to establish an official flag for the United States.
The 50 stars on the flag represent the 50 U.S. states and the 13 stripes represent the original 13 colonies that rebelled against the British crown and became the first states in the union.
The Flag Code, which formalizes and unifies the traditional ways in which the United States gives respect to the flag, also contains specific instructions on how the flag is not to be used. They are:
The flag should never be dipped to any person or thing. It is flown upside down only as a distress signal.
The flag should not be used as a drapery or for covering a speakers desk, draping a platform or for any decoration in general. Bunting of blue, white and red stripes is available for these purposes. The blue stripe of the bunting should be on the top.
The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose. It should not be embroidered, printed or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use. Advertising signs should not be attached to the staff or halyard.
The flag should not be used as part of a costume or athletic uniform, except that a flag patch may be used on the uniforms of military personnel, firefighters, police officers and members of patriotic organizations.
The flag should never have placed on it, or attached to it, any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure or drawing of any kind.
The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying or delivering anything.
When the flag is lowered, no part of it should touch the ground or any other object; it should be received by waiting hands and arms. To store the flag, it should be folded neatly and ceremoniously.
The flag should be cleaned and mended when necessary. When a flag is so worn it is no longer fit to serve as a symbol of the country, it should be destroyed by burning in a dignified manner.
Source: Freedom Flag & Pole