Vader Assembly of God Pastor Tracy Durham holding a flag donated by Oregon resident Emily Wheelbargar after she had seen reports of a flag at the Vader City Jail being burned on May 25. The flag, which flew over the US Capitol Building April 6, had been acquired originally for Rainbow Girls, an international youth organization Wheelbargar works with in Hillsborough, Ore., and came with a certificate to indicate its history.
When reports of teenagers burning an American flag came out of Vader last month, local residents were shocked and dismayed not only at the wanton vandalism but the disregard for our national symbol.
Regional news sources even came to town and spoke with those affected by the burning, which took place May 25 at the Vader City Jail, and they shared how discouraging it was to see young people treat their flag this way.
Across the Columbia River, in Hillsboro, Ore., former Army medic and young women’s leader Emily Wheelbargar saw a report on KATU television and said she knew what she ought to do.
“It really touched me,” she said of the news report, which included an emotional interview with Navy veteran and City Council Member Andy Wilson as he held the burned flag. “It obviously upset him deeply.”
Wheelbargar had in her possession a 5’ x 8’ American flag, which had been flown over the US Capitol Building April 6 of this year, and said it seemed a perfect opportunity to help support another community.
On May 30, she drive all the way to Vader to present the flag to the Vader Assembly of God, who had been victim to the same vandals, and the church is expecting to present the flag officially to the city during this Thursday’s council meeting.
“When I saw this, it was just, like, perfect,” Wheelbargar said of the chance to share the flag, which had originally been acquired for her group Rainbow Girls (short for The International Order of the Rainbow for Girls), a non-denominational youth group originating from the Masons and aimed at teaching service and cooperation to teenaged girls.
Wheelbarger said this opportunity was not only a chance to help encourage fellow veterans but also to support those reaching out to youth as she does, noting she appreciated Vader Assembly of God Pastor Tracy Durham’s offer to the teens for amnesty if they agreed to apologize for their actions and work off their debt from the damage.
“We all make stupid mistakes and I really try hard never to give up on a kid,” said Wheelbargar. “Sometimes you have to work harder on some than others.”
As of June 3, Durham said two of the four teens involved, a brother and sister, had approached him to apologize for the damage to the church, which included a telephone wire, an electrical box and security cameras, and said they were willing to perform community service to pay back their debt.
Durham also said a second flag had been donated June 4 by the Nights of Columbus, based in Chehalis, which is also expected to be presented to the city.
When speaking on Vader’s stance regarding community service instead of criminal charges for the accused teens, Mayor Ken Smith said the city has not ruled out the option, and acknowledged they would have to work with the juvenile court system to come to such an arrangement.
He did note he does not regard the vandalism (which, of city property, included the flag, exterior lights and a door to the jail) as part of recurring behavior for the youths, stating he feels the actions were “just a random act of youthful discretion,” adding, “I don’t think it represents a pattern of activity.”