BANNER OF FREEDOM: Army Navy Club flags provide beacon of hope over Mississippi River

Published 10:00 am Monday, July 3, 2023

The Warren County Bridge Commission first raised the American Flag over the Old Highway 80 Bridge in 1994 in partnership with Vicksburg resident Blanch Millsaps.

Since then, 82 sponsors have flown approximately 87 flags over the bridge. The Army Navy Club of Vicksburg took over the civic project in 2010, and current Flag Committee Chairman Norman Francingues said being part of the quarterly flag raisings is one of his highest honors.

“The Army Navy Club is a nonprofit organization. Our local chapter is in its 89th year, founded in 1937,” Francingues said. “Back when Ms. Blanch Millsaps was getting on in age, she was worried the project would not continue after she passed. The club got wind of that through former Flag Committee Chairman Lewis DeCell. He felt that the club needed a civic project to go beyond what we were doing (at that time).”

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Francingues, a Vietnam-era veteran of the United States Army, said his research shows the flag in Vicksburg is the only American Flag flying over the Mississippi River, from the headwaters up North to the point it empties out into the Gulf of Mexico.

The flags themselves are impressive in scope and size, he added. Made of nylon and supplied by Indiana-based Collins Flag Company, the flags flying over the bridge measure 20 by 30 feet and weigh 21 pounds with shackles.

Thanks to the Bridge Commission, a team of three people folds the previous flag, carries the new flag up to staggering heights above the bridge and raises it to an estimated 250 feet above the Mississippi River. Flags are presented to the families of those honored.

“There’s one other group I have to recognize, and that is the Warren County Bridge Commission, particularly Superintendent Herman Smith and his crew,” Francingues said. “Every quarter, they go up to that flag stand, 80 feet above the bridge deck, and climb to the 70-foot flagpole.”

Beyond the feat that is raising the flag, Francingues said the symbolism of each banner raised is something that stirs emotion in all who witness it.

Each flag raised is sponsored by the loved ones of a veteran or someone who died while serving in the military, from World War II to the Iraq War and everything in between. Although complete sponsorships carry with them a $650 price tag, the waiting list already extends through 2025.

“This program would not be as successful or continuous if it was not for those patriots that have in the past and now in the future who have contributed,” Francingues said. “In the words of Lewis DeCell, ‘The sight of our nation’s flag on the bridge is a reminder that we are capable of self-government, of living together with respect for human dignity, and the right of self-determination. The flag on the bridge is more than a thing of beauty.’ And I’d add one further: It’s a thing of honor.”

All donations to the flag-raising program are tax deductible and can be made care of Flag Program Chairman, Norman Francingues, 100 Redbud Circle, Vicksburg MS 39180. For more information, call Francingues at 601-831-0454.