'Flag man' in Berne; mourners pay respects
Illinois resident Larry Eckhardt wanted to find a way to pay tribute to fallen soldiers and their families. So seven years ago he began traveling around the nation putting up full-sized American flags in honor of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Over 100 people gathered Saturday at South Adams High School to help Eckhardt put up approximately 2,200 flags in Berne in honor of Spc. Nick Taylor, who recently died in Afghanistan.
"It's something we can to do to pay tribute to this young man," said Eckhardt. "Without him, without our military we wouldn't be here."
This marks the 94th time Eckhardt has honored fallen soldiers across the country by lining community streets with flags, free of charge.
Eckhardt said people in the towns he travels to generally donate to help cover expenses.
"Someone will step forward and kind of coordinate and it works out pretty good that way. I can't do it on my own," said Eckhardt.
The flags will remain standing until after Taylor's funeral today at South Adams High School. Eckhardt is asking for volunteers to meet at the school at approximately 3 p.m. Tuesday to help take down the flags.
Mourners flocked to South Adams High School Monday to pay their respects to the family of Spc. Nick Taylor, who gave his life in the service of his country two weeks earlier in Afghanistan.
Public viewing of Taylor's body was held throughout the day on Monday, starting at 11 a.m. Prior to that time, several city officials, members of the Berne police department, military personnel and other invited guests got their chance to say goodbye to Taylor. Mayor Bill McKean, Council President Gregg Sprunger and City Councilman Ron Dull and their families were among those seen exiting the South Adams school prior to the start of public viewing.
Also among the early viewers were Tony and Kaye Mellencamp, the latter pushed by her husband in a wheelchair into the school to meet with the Taylor family.
Tony Mellencamp said there was a certain irony to Monday's meeting. Kaye Mellencamp suffered two aneurysms in May and has been recuperating slowly since that time. She only recently returned home from the hospital and will continue to receive therapy for several months, her husband said.
Tony Mellencamp recalled that on the night of his wife's medical emergency, Berne Police Chief Tim Taylor — father of Nick — came to the Mellencamp's home in an attempt to console Tony.
"We hugged each other and cried. I thought I'd lost her," Mellencamp said of his wife.
Monday the roles were reversed. It was the Mellencamps turn to attempt to console the Taylor family. Residents from Berne and the surrounding area joined in that effort throughout the day as they offered their own consolations.
Spc. Taylor and Spc. Sergio Eduardo Perez Jr. of Crown Point died in a July 16 attack in Kandahar province. They were members of a bomb-clearing unit from the Valparaiso-based 713th Engineer Company.
Funeral services were held this morning starting at 11 a.m. at the school. Taylor's casket was scheduled be taken from the school to M.R.E. cemetery by a horse-draw carriage following the services.