They've marched for presidents before, but it's still a thrill for the Original 27 Flags marching unit of Dewey Lowman American Legion Post 109 of Arbutus, which will represent Maryland in the Clinton-Gore Inaugural Parade in Washington on Jan. 20.
"We think it's an honor. It's tough to get in the parade, but we fit in with the theme," said Johnnie Thompson of Glen Burnie, the post member who handled the application that was quickly accepted by the inaugural committee's parade division.
Formed in 1975, with 27 flags borrowed from the Maryland Department of the American Legion, the unit displays each of the U.S. flags used over the years. They range from the 13-star flag of the original Colonies to the 50-star flag used since Hawaii joined the Union.
The unit, whose members include men and women ages 45 to 80, marched in President Jimmy Carter's inaugural parade in 1977 and President Clinton's first parade in 1993 and led the parade of Pope John Paul II through Baltimore in 1995.
Marchers know the inaugural parade will mean a long day, but they expect it to be a satisfying one, Thompson said.
He recalled delays during the 1993 parade along Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. that prevented the Flags and other units in the last division of the parade from reaching the reviewing stand in front of the White House until after dark.
The inaugural parade has five divisions, each headed by bands and marching units of one of the armed services.
Original 27 Flags "are veterans, and they will add an element of history to the parade, the final inaugural parade of this century," said Patty McQueen, an inaugural committee spokeswoman. "The theme is 'An American Journey: Building a Bridge to the 21st Century.' "
McQueen said the committee received 250 to 300 applications from groups nationwide that were interested in marching in the parade. She said the committee sought diversity in parade participants, which will include bands, mounted units and performing groups.
When it is not marching, the Original 27 Flags unit visits school, civic and seniors groups to discuss the meaning of the flag, and it illustrates the talks with miniatures of the flags it carries in parades, said John Eisenhardt, Dewey Lowman post commander.
"The real thrust is the children," he said.
The Flags unit is self-sustaining, said Eisenhardt, who will be marching in his first inaugural parade. The members hold fund-raisers to pay for uniforms, which include light blue blazers, navy blue trousers and Legion caps. All units in the inaugural parade appear at their own expense, McQueen said.
Thompson has been calling members of the "Flags" unit to see how many will be available for the event.
"A lot of the younger members can't get off work during the week," he said. "We need a minimum of 29 people -- 27 to carry the flags, and two to carry the post banner."
Pub Date: 1/03/97