Great-granddaughter of Union Soldier carries American flag to Illinois Monument at Vicksburg National Military Park

Published 3:18 pm Thursday, June 30, 2022

An American flag that will be representing the United States at the World Games this July made its way through Vickburg last Thursday as part of the Old Glory Relay.

The Old Glory Relay is run by Team Red White and Blue, a non-profit organization that promotes the physical and mental health of veterans.

Karen Lindblom was chosen as the volunteer to make the last leg of the journey from Monroe, La. to the Illinois Monument in the Vicksburg National Military Park before the relay continued on to Monticello, Miss.

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Lindblom said she’d been wanting to visit the monument for some time.

“When I saw that they were going to be at Vicksburg, I just went, ‘I need to be there.’ Because my great grandfather fought at Vicksburg and was wounded there,” she said. “And I have done an amazing amount of genealogy (research), It’s really important to me. And I’ve always wanted to go to Vicksburg, but I lived in California for 80 years.”

She wrote to Team Red White and Blue and asked to be a part of the event.

“I figured there would be many people who would like to do that, and I certainly understood if I wasn’t the one,” Lindblom said. “And I couldn’t have been more excited when he wrote back and said, ‘I love your story.’”

Lindblom then drove to Vicksburg from her home in London, Ky., to participate.

The highest temperature recorded last Thursday was 98 degrees without factoring in the humidity. Lindblom, who is 82 years old, walked about a quarter of a mile to the Military Park at about 3 p.m. after receiving the flag from another volunteer on Clay Street.

She was in great spirits as she entered the Park.

“It was really, really something,” she said. “The adrenaline. You know, I feel like I could have gone forever, just gone on and on.

“But (the support volunteers) were very concerned,” she added with a laugh.

By the end of the relay, when the flag reaches the World Games on July 7, it will have traveled through 15 states with the help of thousands of volunteers. Sixteen volunteers carried the flag while biking, walking and running from Monroe to the stopping point in Vicksburg.

After Lindblom reached the Military Park entrance, she was given a ride to the Illinois monument while support staff brought the flag to her. Flag in hand, she ascended the steps and entered the monument to find her great-grandfather’s name.

Her great-grandfather was John Heck, of the 72nd infantry regiment of Illinois. His name is cast in bronze inside the monument along with the names of more than 36,000 other Illinois troops.

“I walked in there and saw his name and just broke down. I think I couldn’t stop crying because it was just so emotional after all those years,” she said. “And everybody being so wonderful and taking their time, just so I could do that. It was… it was very touching.”

Caitlin Pollard is the Associate Director of Operations for Team Red White and Blue.

“(The relay) helps show the persistence and the effort from veterans and community supporters all across the country,” Pollard said. “So we use this relay to raise awareness about Team RWB to showcase what our nation’s veterans can do to take on a tough challenge together and to do something epic.”

Founded in 2010, Team RWB has been holding events around the country to raise money for, and help, veterans. In 2021, the non-profit was able to provide over $3.8 million in program services.

She is proud of the work her organization is doing.

“(We’re helping veterans) build these opportunities for connection and camaraderie,” Pollard said. “And to overall build a healthier lifestyle, both physically, but also mentally, socially (and) emotionally, creating and helping maintain a well-rounded individual, throughout our communities all across the country.

Lindblom said she wished to express her gratitude to team Red White and Blue.

“The organization is unbelievably organized. They had their schedules down, they call people, they’re amazing,” she said. “They’re a wonderful organization.”

She added that the experience was something she would not soon forget.

“Knowing it was going on from there and all the way to the World Games, it’s hard to describe in words. It was just marvelous,” she said.

Anyone interested in volunteering for Team Red, White and Blue, can visit their website at teamrwb.org.