By O'Dell Isaac
Source The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Nearly two hours before the funeral service for El Paso County sheriff's Deputy Andrew Peery, a man pulled up to a grassy area at the edge of the New Life Church campus and retrieved an armload of flags and signs from the trunk of his car.
He planted each of them in the soft soil near the curb — the flags bearing armed forces insignia or the Stars and Stripes, signs supporting law enforcement and first responders.
Lastly, he opened a folding chair. Joe Duran — who calls himself the "Flagman" — was planning to be there awhile.
"These are the people who run toward the danger when everybody else is running away," said Duran, a Vietnam War veteran who lives in Thornton.
Duran doesn't sell his flags or signs. He doesn't want money, and he doesn't care about recognition. He only wants to show his support for people who have chosen careers of service. He believes that military service members, police officers, firefighters, paramedics, doctors and nurses are all part of a larger profession.
"They all help people," Duran said. "They all save lives."
Inspired by the first responders who risked — and often lost — their lives after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Duran bought a single U.S. flag and stood on a corner in Brighton, holding the banner high. He said he was surprised by the reaction from passersby.
"The people driving by were honking and waving," he said. "It felt good."
Since then, Duran has expanded his flag collection and added several signs bearing slogans like "Support the Blue," "Thank You First Responders" and "United States Veterans: Freedom is Never Free."
He has traveled across the state in support of medical professionals and emergency service workers, including a months-long stretch in 2020 — at the height of the COVID-19 crisis — during which he set up his flags outside St. Anthony North Hospital in Westminster. He says he stood outside the hospital four hours a day, seven days a week, from early April until late September.
"I was flying the flag for the people who were dying of COVID, and for the doctors and nurses who were trying to save them," he said.
Duran has also set up his flags outside the funerals of several fallen law enforcement officers, including Adams County Deputy Heath Gumm, who was shot to death in Thornton in 2018; Commerce City Detective Curt Holland, who was killed in a head-on collision in 2020; Officer Eric Talley, who died responding to a mass shooting at a King Soopers in Boulder in March 2021; and Officer Gordon Beesley, a 19-year veteran who was ambushed and shot to death in June of last year in Arvada.
Duran said flying the flag is the least he can do for the men and women who risk their lives in the service of others.
At New Life Church, about 30 minutes before Deputy Peery's funeral service was set to begin, a woman saw Duran's display and, mistaking him for a vendor, asked to purchase one of his flags. He gave her one, but politely declined when she offered to pay for it.
"I don't do this for money," the Flagman said.
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