MONTICELLO — When the American flags at this village’s two veterans memorials weren’t flying at half-staff Wednesday in memory of George H.W. Bush, who died last week, a Monticello resident became angry at what he saw as a lack of respect for the former president.
Tim Kolasch, 52, who was a U.S. Navy veteran, learned later Wednesday that it might have been a bigger slap in the face for Harold Babler, another Monticello resident and World War II vet who died last December.
Babler was the caretaker of the Monticello Veterans Memorial and the Green County Vietnam War Memorial before he died last year at the age of 93. He made sure the memorials were clean and the flags always flew high at those locations unless they were ordered to half-staff. “He was always out there taking care of things,” Kolasch said.
He was also, it turns out, irreplaceable. The first sign things were amiss was in August, after former United States Sen. John McCain died and no one lowered the flags at the memorials.
Harvey Kubly, a Monticello resident and member of the American Legion, complained at the time to village President Tere Dunlap. But even though the memorials are located on village property, the maintenance of the memorials is the responsibility of the American Legion, Dunlap told him, adding that village employees don’t even have keys to the panels that provide access to the cranks.
It turned out Kubly had the key, at least to the veterans memorial flag, which he’d inherited after Babler’s death. He still doesn’t know who has the key to the Vietnam War Memorial.
On Wednesday, he’d forgotten again to lower the flag at the veterans memorial until Monticello Police Chief Szvon Conway brought it to his attention.
“Things haven’t settled down yet since Harold’s death about people taking responsibility for things” like taking care of the flags, said Kubly, who disputed the idea that maintenance of the flags isn’t the village’s responsibility.
Kolasch brought attention to the latest situation with a Facebook post Wednesday morning that included a photo of the flag flying high at the veterans memorial.
“I was angry. It’s just ingrained in me to do stuff like fly the flag at half-staff when ordered,” he said. “I feel bad that I caused a ruckus. But at least something happened because of it. I know it won’t happen again.”
The Facebook post led to a flurry of phone calls from residents and others to the Monticello Village Hall, which also wasn’t flying its flag at half-staff. But Dunlap said that flag can’t be lowered or it would touch the building, which is “a flag etiquette no-no.”
Kubly, a Republican who fought in the Vietnam War, said he was a big fan of McCain’s, who was a POW during the Vietnam War. He also liked Bush, who was shot down in the Pacific during World War II but avoided capture by the Japanese.
“(Bush) was part of the great generation who served in World War II. His death is kind of the end of an era,” Kubly said.
Babler was part of that great generation, too. He was part of an artillery battalion and saw his first action during the Battle of the Bulge, according to his war diary that is part of the Monticello Historical Society. He surrendered during a tank battle and was a prisoner of war until his stalag was liberated by Allied troops about three months later.
“We need to do better in his honor,” Kubly said.