WALLINGFORD — It was Christmas Day and Jay Richardson was deeply distressed.
The POW/MIA flag hanging from the pole at his town business had been shredded by high winds the day before. Worse than that, the Stars and Stripes that flew above it was gone, apparently carried away by the strong gusts.
The 60-year-old North Haven resident has a great love for the nation’s flag. His brother, father and grandfather served in the military, his father for 40 years as a U.S. Marine Corps sergeant — Richardson’s rank, too, as a retired U.S. Army reservist. His brother Jeff is a Vietnam War veteran. Richardson’s regard for the flag was why the pole was among the first of almost $400,000 in upgrades to the building on Washington Street when he bought it in October 2019, he said.
Mixed with his sadness was annoyance, too. Richardson had wanted to take down the flags when the wind had started to howl on Christmas Eve but had been talked out of it, he said.
“I was devastated. The flag to me...” Richardson said Monday, pausing to let his emotions pass. “I get choked up when I think of it. My kids like to laugh at me because I cry for the national anthem.”
So imagine Richardson’s surprise when he came to work on Monday and found the missing flag had been returned to him washed, pressed, and folded appropriately in a neat triangle.
It turns out a neighbor to his business, 63-year-old Paul Kischkum, had found the flag Christmas morning. He and his daughter, 21-year-old Nina Kischkum, were on their way to Meriden to deliver presents to a relative when he spotted the flag in a puddle at the edge of the parking lot to Richardson’s enterprise, Abrasive Finishing Industries.
Kischkum has actually saved lost flags before, usually finding them along the road. Several are in his garage because he can’t always tell where they come from, he said.
“A lot of times it is the young guys who fly their flags off the back of a pickup truck and they don’t realize that the pole they have them on has snapped,” Kischkum said. “I never know who to return them to, and I don’t want to destroy them.”
Richardson was moved by Kischkum’s thoughtfulness.
“He folded it just like you would receive it if your loved one has passed away,” Richardson said.
“I am just so impressed with somebody who would take time out of their day to do something like this,” Richardson added. “Who does that? In this world we live in today, this is good stuff.”
“I didn’t want anything from anybody,” Kischkum said. “I just did it because that’s what you’re supposed to do.”
Richardson and Kischkum are strangers, but their stories parallel each other in ways that could unite them in their regard for flag and country.
Like Richardson, Kischkum has a family with an extensive military history. His father, the late Alexander Kischkum, was a sergeant field-promoted to lieutenant as an infantryman with the U.S. Army’s Fourth Armored Division, the spearhead to U.S. Gen. George S. Patton’s Third Army in its dash through France during World War II. Kischkum earned a Purple Heart after getting shot through the right leg, his son said.
“He used to say that you don't let the flag touch the ground, but if it falls, pick it up,” Kischkum said. “I just learned how to treat the flag. I was just happy to find that the flag would fly from its proper pole and they wouldn’t have to buy another one.”
As a sign of respect for the flag and Kischkum’s returning it to him, Richardson said he will not put it atop the pole until he has brass clips that will hold it there through the strongest winds.
“I don’t want it coming down again,” Richardson said.