By Shawn Raymundo
Ahead of the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a group of local residents will make the hike up Patriot Hill to replace the American flag, keeping alive a longstanding tradition.
A few times a year, the local group, consisting of about 20 to 60 hikers, participates in Flag Rallies by hiking San Juan Capistrano’s Patriot Trail and replacing the American flag atop of Patriot Hill with a fresh 6-by-10-foot flag.
In addition to the Sept. 11 memorial, the Flag Rallies typically coincide with major U.S. holidays, including Memorial Day in May and Independence Day in July, San Juan resident Yvonne Tschaikowsky explained in an email to The Capistrano Dispatch.
“Flag Rallies bring together all people and families with the common patriotic thread of being thankful for the men and women who serve and protect us,” wrote Tschaikowsky, who first started the rallies with fellow San Juan resident Shirley Stewart, who died in June 2016.
After reaching the top of Patriot Hill, the group holds a ceremony to mark the occasion by playing the bugle call “Retreat” while the outgoing, worn flag is lowered. And to celebrate the raising of the replacement flag, the bugle call “To the Colors” is played.
“The group recites the Pledge of Allegiance, sings the National Anthem, a prayer is offered and a bagpiper plays ‘Amazing Grace’ as the finale,” Tschaikowsky said in the email.
Whenever a tattered flag is ceremoniously retired and replaced, the local San Juan chapter of the American Legion clips out the embroidered stars, which get sent to troops in the Armed Services overseas, along with notes of support and gratitude, Tschaikowsky said.
The new flags, Tschaikowsky added, are donated from some of the members in the group, which also maintains the 35-foot flagpole, as well as the journal box—a mailbox of sorts that includes entries from visitors throughout the country who have “expressed awe and admiration for this tribute.”
While she and Stewart founded the Flag Rallies, an American flag wasn’t added to the trail until the day of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, according to Tschaikowsky. On that day, she further explained, an unknown individual placed an American flag on a rusty fence post at the top of San Juan’s southeast open space ridgeline.
“From that day forward, an ever-growing team has kept a flag flying on that ridge line, clearly visible from many surrounding cities and the 5 Freeway,” she wrote. “Two Eagle Scout brothers installed a permanent pole as a tribute to the 3,500 lives lost and to all the heroes who protect us every day: military, law enforcement, firemen and first responders.”
For this year’s 9/11 Flag Rally, the group plans to meet at the Patriot Hill flagpole on Saturday, Sept. 7, at 8:30 a.m, with the ceremony set to last about an hour.
To join the group and receive updates on when future flag rallies will be held, email FlagOnTheHill92675@gmail.com or visit the group’s Facebook site.
The group encourages those planning on participating to bring water and be aware of snakes on the trail. Dogs joining the hike should be kept on leashes. The trail itself is all dirt and includes some steep inclines.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for The Capistrano Dispatch. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow The Dispatch @CapoDispatch.