One day, Walter Brown was looking through a flea market when something caught his eye. Then he spotted a United States flag that had some writing on it. As he looked closer, he could hardly believe what he was seeing – and he knew that this was no ordinary star-spangled banner.
Brown and his wife Lanie live in Beaumont, Texas. They have a daughter named Catie Shafer and are familiar with the United States Marines. Brown previously served his country, as did their son and son-in-law.
One day, the Browns went to a flea market in Hemphill. They were searching for a holster for Lanie that could hold a Walter P22 pistol she had recently purchased. But what they bought was something very different.
The market’s owner is Fred Yahne, who regularly buys storage lots in auctions and sells their contents. As he was setting up one day in 2014, he noticed the unusual flag. Yahne placed it on a counter to take a closer look at it when he had the chance.
“I didn’t know what it was when I was processing the boxes,” he told the Houston Chronicle. “I really wanted to see what it was.” But as the day progressed, his wife began to sell items to customers.
Brown had noticed a pile of United States flags and became intrigued. He started looking at them when he observed that one of them had writing on it. So he called his wife over to take a look.
When they saw what the ink said, the couple were blown away. And they knew that they wanted to take the flag home with them. Brown agreed to pay the $15 price, but the seller charged him just $5 after also spotting the scrawls upon it.
The Browns had seen that the writing mentioned a lance corporal. “The rank is specific to the Marines, that’s what caught our eye,” Lanie said. As they looked closer, they began to realize what the text meant.
The flag was covered in messages to someone called Fred. One of them read, “Fred, you were a good Marine and we will always remember you.” Another person had written, “Hey CHEEKS, wherever you are, make sure you watch over us.”
After they had taken the banner home, their son explained what it was. He told them that they had purchased a “tribute flag” that was made in honor of a fallen lance corporal. It was signed by other members of the unit after the marine’s death.
Walter and Lanie Brown realized that they had to get the flag back to its rightful place – with the soldier’s family. So they enlisted the help of their daughter. She began searching on social media and found Patsy Maciel, whose son Fred was the lance corporal the flag was created for.
Maciel’s son had been determined to become a marine and told her one day during high school that he had enlisted. The mom, whose elder child Carlos had served in the Army, knew that he was putting his life at risk and begged him to change his mind. “I cried for three days trying to convince him not to (join)… I lost that fight,” she said.
Maciel added, “His dream was to be a Marine, and I had to let him do that. I’m proud of him, that he died doing what he loved.” Fred was sent to Iraq in 2003 and completed two tours, before tragedy struck when he was 20 years old.
On January 26, 2005, Maciel was awakened by her mother, who saw on television that a helicopter carrying servicemen had crashed 220 miles outside of Baghdad in a sandstorm. Then she got a knock on her door to inform her that Fred was one of the 31 Americans killed. She was devastated.
“For eight years, I was a basket case,” Maciel admitted. “I didn’t know how to go on without my son.” Maciel was sent his personal items, including a spoon collection, his boots and suits. However, something very important was missing – his tribute flag.
It’s unclear how the banner became lost. But nine-and a half years after Fred’s death, the Browns contacted Maciel to let her know that they had it. Shafer then spoke to the mom over the phone. “She said I have something of Fred’s I want to give you,” Maciel recalled to USA Today.
The Brown family arranged to meet Maciel and present her with the flag in person. “I could have mailed it to you and put it in a box, but I wanted to meet you,” Shafer told her. The family felt it was their duty. “I was real blessed that both of my boys came home in one piece and I have a huge responsibility to her,” Lanie said to ABC7.
On July 26, 2014, the Browns met Maciel for the first time beside Fred’s grave at Calvary Hill Cemetery in Texas. His family and friends were there to witness the fallen lance corporal’s mother receiving his tribute banner. And she was also surprised by Patriot Guard Riders, who brandished flags and saluted her.
Brown explained that he felt it was important to deliver the flag in person. “This is a once in a lifetime event for all of us,” he told USA Today. And before handing it over to Maciel, his wife told her, “Patsy, our family feels so honored to have been chosen to find this flag … Thank you for sharing this piece of your boy with us.”
Brown had just happened to spot the flag at the flea market. Now, it had brought two families together – and given Maciel another connection to her late child. “I’ve got peace in my heart. I’m happy. This is all for my son. Nobody forgot my son,” she said. And she added to the Houston Chronicle, “It’ll be with me till I die. This is a piece of my son I’m getting back. It’s a great feeling.”