Meet The ‘Flag Guy’: Patriotism Powers Pedal Pusher - Leesburg Today Online—Daily News Coverage of Loudoun County, Leesburg, Ashburn: News

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Meet The ‘Flag Guy’: Patriotism Powers Pedal Pusher

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Posted: Wednesday, July 4, 2012 8:11 am | Updated: 9:21 pm, Wed Jul 4, 2012.

You may not know Mike Sanders, but if you live in Leesburg, chances are you would recognize him instantly.

After all, it’s hard to miss a burly, 6-foot-2-inch man dressed in neoprene riding a bicycle around town covered head to toe in flags, be it the middle of a record heat wave in the early summer or the biting frost of February.

When Sanders ditches his biking attire, sits down in a recliner in his Leesburg home in the Exeter neighborhood, it’s impossible not to ask the obvious question—why?

Why ride his bicycle around town, planting American flags by Mom’s Apple Pie at the intersection of Loudoun and East Market streets, or at the intersection of Rt. 7 and Rt. 9 west of town, or by the W&OD trail at the intersection of Battlefield Parkway and the Leesburg Bypass?

“I started right after that funeral I watched [for Purcellville soldier Stephan Mace in October 2009],” Sanders said. “It was something that struck me and I guess it was one of those things…I wanted to make sure that we all remember that the freedom we have is not free.

“I’m hoping as I put these flags out, we start remembering that. If those guys did what we did over here, they wouldn’t win, because you have to do it as a team. Maybe if I put out enough flags, instead of us going at each other, we come together as we should to take care of this country.”

Sanders, 46, served in the U.S. Air Force for 18 years and now works in intelligence in Chantilly. His girlfriend, Sue Robinson, said he’s a cyclist first and the Flag Guy second. Sanders tried out for the Olympic cycling team in 2008 despite riding with a broken arm. Sanders said he sometimes rides for 10 hours in a day, though he never keeps track.

When he returns home from his rides, he writes poetry, he listens to jazz and he thinks. He reflects. He says the first thing he does when he wakes up and the last thing he does before he goes to sleep is look in the mirror.

The self-described “country boy” from rural South Carolina, the grandson of a Pentecostal minister, speaks heavily in proverbs, dispenses as much advice in a single conversation as he can and sports a perpetual smile—especially when he’s talking about his beloved Pittsburgh Steelers.

He wasn’t always like this. He moved to Leesburg about six years ago, before which he lived in Arlington and adjusted to city life, which he said never suited him. He loves nature, he loves peace and quiet, and he loves helping others. He calls cycling and planting flags his therapy.

“It’s therapeutic for me, because every day when I get up in the morning, I think about [the troops],” Sanders said. “When people ask me about riding in the heat, I say it’s my dedication to them, because every day they get up in the heat. Even in that heat, when they’re tired and they’re worn out, sometimes the only thing they think about is that flag. They know somebody back home is seeing that same flag, and that makes them keep going.”

About once every two weeks, Sanders drives his black SUV to Ben Franklin on Catoctin Circle to buy a bag of about 100 miniature flags. He said he’s been offered money to help fuel his hobby, but he’s never accepted a dime.

“The smile on someone’s face is worth more than anyone can give me,” he said.

Although Sanders is gregarious and outgoing, Robinson insists he has no desire for publicity. The only reason he agrees to be interviewed by a reporter is the inherent politeness instilled in him during his time on a farm in South Carolina.

“He’s not doing it for the recognition,” Robinson said. “He wants people to remember the soldiers and the troops and the guys who have died.”

That much is obvious when he’s asked how it feels to be a local celebrity, and responds with sheepish giggles, only to brush aside the question, calling it community service.

He’s relentlessly complimentary of the fire and police departments—a police spokesman said the department is aware of his activities and hasn’t received any complaints—and said he helps anyone whenever he can. He’ll even do housework for neighbors, provided they feed him.

“He’s a very selfless person,” Peggy Forbes, a neighbor, said. “He’s very humble. He just wants the flag out there, he just wants them to remember.”

Sanders references some of his favorite movies almost as much as he mentions his grandfather, his mother and being a country boy. He said he liked Gran Torino because of Clint Eastwood’s character sacrificing for those in need, despite his surface racism. He liked Remember the Titans because of Denzel Washington’s character trying to instill discipline in his character. He even compared himself to Patrick Swayze in Road House for his mantra of being nice, until it’s time to not be nice anymore.

Despite his love of movies and sports, cycling and wildlife, the Flag Guy has that name for a reason, and he doesn’t anticipate giving up his hobby anytime soon. He’s spread it to his vacation spot on the Outer Banks in North Carolina, and even brought it to Seattle when visiting friends. Everywhere he goes, he said, children always have the same, rewarding reaction.

He remembers a time when he wasn’t dressed up, but two little girls recognized him anyway.

“One of them came up to me and said, ‘You’re the flag guy. You really rock.’ No matter how much money I spend, it’s worth it to have kids actually think the flag is a cool thing. That means everything to me,” he said.

One of the proverbs he likes to recite is something he said his mother taught him. “When you leave this Earth, leave it as an asset. When you’re gone, make sure people miss you.

“I consider myself a very proud American. When I see the flag, it gives me chills,” he said. “When we all leave here, the kids are the ones that are going to be taking care of everything. We want them, when they see the flag, to feel like I do.”

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11 comments:

  • Bill Fox posted at 7:25 pm on Sun, Aug 10, 2014.

    Bill Fox Posts: 98

    I understand that there may be some who may not appreciate what Mike does. As for me, and my house, we think "flag guy" is one of the coolest things about living in Leesburg, and we would be immensely disappointed if he stopped doing his thing or "toned it down." There are many different ways to convey patriotism, and even the word "patriotism" may mean different things to different people. But it is the sentiment itself that is important, and NO ONE can question the sincerity of this man's patriotism. It is visible, it is fervent, and it is unique. . .and I love it.

     
  • ArmyStrong765 posted at 7:46 pm on Sat, Aug 9, 2014.

    ArmyStrong765 Posts: 1

    As a current Officer in the US Army, I disagree with Veteran and LeesburgCitizen. While the flag may not be under display according to the UCMJ, this act is also not being performed under any government related function. Stop being a stickler and understand the thought and message behind his actions. He is completely right about trying to show our younger generations the pride that they should have when they see the flag. This isn't the military, don't apply military standards to the civilian sector. And tone it down you say? This is the land of the free and he is within his rights to do all of this. This man is doing what he loves and a lot of people enjoy seeing a man who is passionate about our flag. If you are offended by someone acting within their inalienable rights, maybe this isn't the country for you.

     
  • Veteran posted at 9:28 pm on Thu, Mar 21, 2013.

    Veteran Posts: 1

    I agree completely with Leesburg Citizen. I am a veteran myself and am offended by how tacky and disrespectful the flags are strewn about. I do not think the Flag guy is following the Uniform Code of Justice on the proper way to display flags. It is too much. I also find that at night with his strobe light on his bike making his rounds with all of his flags that he is a dangerous distraction on the road to drivers on the road and to himself. I am surprised that the Edwards Landing HOA allows him to litter their neighborhood entrance. I like that the Ashburn Village entrance off Route 7 has proper flags flying... that looks great. I am not against our flag. I am against the manner in which this man is dishonoring the flag and the community. The Flag Guy should find other ways to show pride for the country

     
  • LeesburgCitizen posted at 10:50 pm on Wed, Mar 6, 2013.

    LeesburgCitizen Posts: 1

    First it seems amusing, even inspirtional. After seeing the landscape littered with my country's flag constantly for the last several year, in greater and greater numbers, now it seems childish, even disrespectful. Is there no limit? Now we see them zip tied not only to poles and signs, but to each other in big clumps, at the entrance to Ida Lee Park, and at the entrances to our communities. It's getting old and annoying now - an unhealthy almost frightnening obsession. I've seen the flag man on his bicycle with flags flying from every imaginable place - mostly his helment - and all over the back of his vehicle. He is definitely a fan of the flag - as in "fanatic." I hate to say a discouraging word here, for fear of being called unpatriatic - but enough is enough - please tone it down flag man. Less is more!

     
  • SPCMace'smom posted at 9:17 am on Sat, Jul 7, 2012.

    SPCMace'smom Posts: 1

    Mr. Saunders,
    I take Rt. 7 to work, pass by the flags on Rt 9 and many times at Mom's Apple Pie. Every time I look at the flags, it reminds me that there are still people out there who care about our country and our soldiers in harm's way. I feel that much of the country cannot see past their own nose anymore. Within the last few weeks we have lost more soldiers from the DC Metro area. Does anybody care? I just don't know.. A few Saturday's ago I was on the Rt. 9 bridge and saw you placing your flags. I started to stop, to thank you, but changed my mind because I would be late for work. To know that my son ignited somebody to dedicate themselves to placing flags in Loudoun County leaves me with a warm place in my heart. Thank you. I hope to pass by you again. I will stop to say hi, work will have to wait :) God Bless.

     
  • RU4Real posted at 3:38 pm on Fri, Jul 6, 2012.

    RU4Real Posts: 6

    Hey Mr. Erickson,
    After you finish reading your chain e-mails, try some intellectual stimulation by reading some fact checks on those e-mails.

    You would have saved yourself from looking stupid by reading the "Pants of Fire" rating the chain e-mail about Michelle Obama before you try to pass it on in a blog.

    Since you apparently can't navigate yourself to a fact checker here is the finding and a link to a site you clearly need to stumble to once in a while.

    http://www.politifact.com

    Like many chain emails, this one has evolved since earlier versions. The detail about the lip-reading instructor at the River School was added recently, presumably to give the email more credibility.

    But that credibility crumbled when we spoke with Nancy Mellon, director of the River School. She described it as a Washington school that serves a wide range of children from 18 months to third grade. It is known for its strong program for hearing-impaired children, but they account for just 15 percent of the students.

    More importantly, the River School doesn't teach lip-reading, Mellon said, and no one from the faculty has provided any interpretation of the video.

    "It's definitely not us," she said. "We would never try to do anything like this."

    The school has gotten so many inquiries about the chain email that last week it posted this message on its website:

    Please be advised that The River School was not involved in any translation services for a recent video clip currently circulating on the Internet.

    So what did she really say? The consensus on All Deaf, a website for people who are hearing impaired, was that she said, "It's amazing how they fold that flag." (However, one person speculated that she told her husband, "This is the third time this week you left your underwear on the floor... I ain't your mother.")

     
  • T Motley posted at 3:15 pm on Fri, Jul 6, 2012.

    T Motley Posts: 5

    Thanks for spotlighting this man. For several years I have seen him riding his bicycle through Leesburg and never knew who he was or what his story might be. Awesome man!

     
  • MissLeesburg1983 posted at 5:38 pm on Wed, Jul 4, 2012.

    MissLeesburg1983 Posts: 11

    It's about time an article has been written on the Flag Guy. He brings smiles to all who sees him peddling about or putting out flags. I've even seen him traveling down Rt 28. It's nice to know his reason behind his patriotism. Continue on Mike. You Rock!

     
  • mas954 posted at 4:54 pm on Wed, Jul 4, 2012.

    mas954 Posts: 352

    Hey Flag Guy! I see you around all the time. As I was walking home from Starbucks this morning, I passed Capital One Bank on Market & Catoctin. I just knew it was your great deed. Thanks - you always make me smile :)

    Have a very Happy 4th!

     
  • hubba bubba posted at 3:43 pm on Wed, Jul 4, 2012.

    hubba bubba Posts: 415

    Kudos Flag Man....the young girl is right...YOU ROCK!


    @Johnathan......are you a professional lip reader? Even Glenn Beck's intern told him that's not what she said and he reads lips because he's been deaf most his life. But you just keep believing what you want.....

     
  • norges55 posted at 9:46 am on Wed, Jul 4, 2012.

    norges55 Posts: 1042

    All this for just a flag? Michelle O.