For 40 years, he's raised a flag on Flower Street

95-year-old World War II vet salutes the Stars and Stripes every morning in front of his Costa Mesa home.

November 09, 2013|By Bradley Zint
  • World War II veteran Thomas G. Riker, 95, poses for a portrait at his home in Eastside Costa Mesa on Thursday. Every morning, Riker hoists his American flag in his front yard. Later in the afternoon, he takes it down with proper form. He's had that routine for about 40 years.
World War II veteran Thomas G. Riker, 95, poses for a portrait… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

World War II veteran Thomas G. Riker has a morning routine, a short ceremony of patriotic clockwork.

He walks the front yard of his Flower Street home in Eastside Costa Mesa and hoists the American flag. Then the 95-year-old salutes and quietly recites the beginning of the Boy Scout oath: "On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country."

Later in the afternoon, he takes the flag down in proper form and folding.

He's been honoring Old Glory this way for about 40 years, almost every day unless there's inclement weather. It hasn't gone without notice.

"When I'm putting it up, they either wave or salute or something," Riker said with a smile. "Even the fella that cleans the road, the road sweeper, on a Wednesday when he goes by and I'm putting it up, he waves."

Neighbors admire his dedication as well.


"The respect that he shows for the flag, it's great to see," said Libby Doughty, who lives across the street. "It's inspiring to see somebody that shows so much respect for the flag and his country."

When her 9-year-old son sees the flag raising, "it makes his day," she added.

"It's a class act," Doughty continued. "Total class act."

Joann Launder, a Flower Street resident of 20 years, said Riker exemplifies the wonderful living on Flower and the Eastside.

"To see this gentleman out there every single day, as old as he is, I just think that's so sweet," she said.

Riker is on his second flagpole. It's sturdier than the previous one, which mischievous kids ruined a while ago.

He said he only buys the highest-quality flags from the American Legion. He goes through one a year.

Riker's war was different than many. Because he joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 at age 24, he was the "old man" of an outfit that had mostly 18- and 17-year-olds. Six months into his service, though, he got spinal meningitis and was classified as a noncombatant.

Despite being offered a discharge, he refused to accept it.

"What's the point? I'd go home and they'd induct me again," he said. "That's the way it was: If you were breathing, in you went ... you're out of circulation for four years. Didn't matter what you did. Just do something."

He spent most of his time at what was then known as Kirtland Field in Albuquerque, N.M., mostly doing base inspection work. He left the service as a private first class.

"When you're stateside, you didn't get any rank elevation," Riker said. "They gave it to the fellas who went overseas, and that was all right with me."

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