Vandalized flag replaced to fly again

A decorated Marine sergeant who gave a school its first flag steps forward again with a new donation

 Marine 1st Sgt. Reginald Daniels looks at a burned U.S. flag in his office in Springfield on Wednesday. Daniels donated the flag to Brattain Early Learning Center, but a vandal burned it soon after and left it flying at half-staff on the school’s flagpole. (Brian Davies/The Register-Guard)

The U.S. flag is flying again outside Brattain Early Learning Center after a vandal burned a flag given by an active-duty Marine who has served three tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

First Sgt. Reginald Daniels, who donated the first flag, said he immediately drove its replacement to the center near downtown Springfield on Friday after learning about the vandalism that occurred the night before.

Employees at the center were in a meeting when he arrived, and Daniels said there were tears in the eyes of a couple of them as he presented the new flag to a supervisor.

Annie Soto — executive director of Head Start of Lane County, which operates a preschool program for low-income families at the center — said the vandalism cut deep after the kindness shown by Daniels and his Marine unit.

“It was hurtful for staff,” she said.

The bond between the Marines and Head Start began in August, when Daniels offered his unit’s help to Head Start when it held a staff meeting at the National Guard Armory in Springfield.

The Springfield School District closed Brattain Elementary School in 2012, but the district leases out the building to Head Start and other organizations that help preschoolers.

Daniels and about a dozen of his Marines spent two rainy days in late October building a playground that was more age-appropriate for the children.

We like to play around in the mud so it was good for us to be out there,” Daniels said. “It was a lot of fun.”

Daniels said he noticed the empty flagpole and donated the flag a couple of days later, showing an employee how to raise and lower it.

For Daniels, the donation was intended to give the center a sense of pride and to serve as a reminder to the children of the opportunity available to them in this country.

“I think every school deserves to have a flag,” he said.

Daniels enlisted in the Marines in 1998 and arrived in the area for his current assignment in August 2013.

Daniels received the Bronze Star the previous year after his last deployment to Afghanistan.

He freed two service members trapped in a vehicle destroyed in the blast of a roadside bomb. Four people, including his company commander, were injured severely in the attack, and the award recognized Daniels’ effort to evacuate them safely.

Daniels, who was a company gunnery sergeant at the time, participated in more than 200 mounted patrols, covering more than 3,500 miles, during the deployment, according to his award citation.

Charleen Strauch, Head Start’s operations director, said employees forgot to lower the flag last Thursday evening.

An employee on Friday morning discovered that someone had lowered the flag and burned about a third of it. The flag measures 6 feet wide by 3 feet tall.

Head Start filed a police report.

Soto said there have been a lot of problems with vandalism in the neighborhood.

The vandalism of the first flag and Daniels’ donation of the second flag has garnered national media attention, including on Fox News’ website.

Daniels said he plans to turn over the burned flag to the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ Springfield post for proper disposal. The federal flag code requires that a damaged flag be folded and burned and the ashes buried.

In the meantime, the burned flag is draped over a bookcase in Daniels’ office at the armory.

“Every time I walk into my office, it reminds me of just how important it is and what it represents and that someone out there doesn’t think it means the same thing,” he said.


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