Visitors to Scottsdale’s Gateway Trailhead this Memorial Day weekend will pass near an American Flag that carries its own special message about sacrifice and appreciation.
One year ago, two young men were looking for a way to recognize veterans and their contributions. They particularly wanted to honor Brian Kennedy, the brother of a family friend and a Marine corporal who gave his life in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Tommy Seros and Patrick Pearce purchased a large American flag, hiked to the top of a mountain peak in Scottsdale’s McDowell Sonoran Preserve and placed it on a makeshift pole braced by rocks and boulders.
Beneath the flag they penned a message on a simple wooden plaque – “God Bless America and her troops.”
Seros was 18 and fresh out of high school. Pearce was a junior at Scottsdale Christian Academy.
“When you see the sacrifice our veterans make, it’s very humbling,” said Tommy. “Patrick and I made that climb and planted that flag to honor and thank them.”
The flag snapped and fluttered in the breeze that long weekend and was visible from Patrick’s neighborhood. It caught the attention of residents, hikers and passersby and not all of the feedback was positive.
The city of Scottsdale began receiving complaints. Flags, monuments and personal displays are prohibited in the preserve – especially off trail. The restrictions are designed to protect the fragile desert environment within the preserve’s 30,000 acres.
Preserve staff reached out to Tommy and Patrick and asked them to take down their flag. The men declined – they wanted to keep it on the mountain as a way to honor vets.
By that time, media stories had fueled a lively community debate about the flag and its location. Some applauded Tommy and Patrick’s patriotism; others decried what they saw as an intrusion into the preserve.
Both sides agreed to meet and find a way forward. When the two men explained their motives for the flag display, city officials suggested a permanent fixture at the nearby Preserve Gateway Trailhead.
The city purchased and installed the flagpole late last year.
“It turned out perfect” said Tommy. “The Gateway is a beautiful setting.”
City staff is also pleased with the outcome.
“It was a pleasure working with Tommy and Patrick on a project that was agreeable and meaningful to everyone,” said Bill Murphy, Scottsdale’s director of Community Services. “The Gateway flag will fly for years to come as a tribute to Brian Kennedy and all of our veterans."
The year has bought other changes related to that trip up the mountain.
Tommy is now a veteran – he joined the Air Force reserve and is working to enter its pilot program. Patrick graduated this week from Scottsdale Christian Academy. He is working to get his pilot’s license alongside Tommy and wants to fly commercially.
There is also news surrounding the man they honored with their original flag display.
Earlier this month, the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation established a scholarship in Brian Kennedy’s name. Brian’s parents live in Scottsdale’s Desert Mountain community.
“Brian was a terrific guy, full of life,” said Tommy. “I’m glad the flagpole is there. It’s a great way to honor Brian and the sacrifices of all our veterans.”
Learn more about the Gateway and Scottsdale's McDowell Sonoran Preserve.
Learn more about the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation.