The Man Who Collected Flags

So many times in life, we do things because we have to, not because we want to.

Then there’s Rick Scharnikow, a neighbor of mine, who has done something because he wanted, not because he had too.

In fact, he’s been doing something for 10 years that has become, in his own words, a bit of an obsession.

He’s been collecting flags. American flags.

Not just any American flags. 9/11 flags.

See, after September 11, 2001, especially here in the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania area, many people, attached small flags to their cars as an honor and remembrance to those lost in the attacks, and as a show of unified support for America.

A great idea, but honestly, when a vehicle is moving down a highway at 65+ miles per hour, wind does what it wants to to it. It takes the flags, whips it, rips it, frays it, and often, removes it from the car window, dumping it unceremoniously on the road or the gutter.

Rick, a former Eagle Scout (and current scout master) and U.S. Marine (sat off the coast of Iran during the Hostage Crisis), saw this and his patriotism kicked in. Ten years ago, he started to collect the flags. When he saw a flag on the road, he’d pull over wherever he was to retrieve the piece of cloth that meant so much to him.

He even put a sign in the back of his van that read “US Flag Recovery – Sudden Stops”.

“I did it because I had too. I didn’t want people driving over them. It became an obsession,” he said.

A Piscataway, New Jersey, native, Rick, 53, didn’t know what he was going to do with all the flags he was gathering. He would bring them home, rinse them out to get the road grim off them, dry them, fold them, and then put them in a box.

And the number of flags added up as he kept stopping. 100, 200, 300. Soon, he had more than 500 flags in the box.

“I had no idea what I was going to do them,” Rick told me. “I just knew I’d do something with them, someday.”

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approached, Rick knew what he was going to do – he’d build a memorial that including the flags.

Rick’s a handy guy. He works outfitting spaces to be R&D labs for a company called Triad Scientific, Inc. in Manasquan, NJ, so he knows his way around a tool box.

So, he got to work in his garage. Two days later, using two by fours and steel stud tracking, he had his memorial. Two columns, each 9 feet 11 inches.

A plaque in front bears a simple creed, taken in part from the Marine Corps hymn:

Relighting his cigar, Rick said, “My fiance thought I was crazy, my neighbors thought so too. But when they saw what it was when it was done, they thought it was beautiful.”

And it is beautiful. It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it bears a message. A message of remembrance, made by hand, in a garage, by a guy with passion who personifies honor and dedication.

Bravo and MTV can keep their “reality” shows that depict the loutish behavior of New Jersey residents.

Rick Scharnikow is the real New Jersey, folks. He’s the real deal.

“They are 9/11 flags,” Rick said. “9/11, ten years later.”

* Click here for a cool follow-up to this story…

© Mark V. Krajnak 2011 | JerseyStyle Photography | All rights Reserved
Unless otherwise noted, images captured with a Canon 50D, SanDisk digital film, finished with PS4 or PSE6 and Nik Software.


6 thoughts on “The Man Who Collected Flags

  1. Great story, Mark. The colour portrait with the flags is just lovely.
    Thank you for sharing this with us, and thanks to Rick for his service to his country.

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