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‘He deserves this’: Volunteers plant around 2,000 flags in tribute to Sgt. Jim Smith ahead of his funeral

Published: Apr. 14, 2021 at 10:57 PM CDT
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INDEPENDENCE, Iowa (KCRG) - On a windy Wednesday evening, American flags flew in their full, star-spangled glory around the city of Independence.

Around 2,000 flags were planted earlier that day by around 100 volunteers in honor of Sgt. Jim Smith, a member of the Iowa State Patrol who was shot and killed on the job last Friday in Grundy Center.

“He deserves this, absolutely deserves this,” Malina Tegtmeier of Independence said.

The effort was organized by “The Flagman’s Mission Continues,” a group based in the St. Louis area that honors the service of men and women in uniform by putting up flags before their funerals.

Jeff Hastings, who leads the group, said the best turnout usually happens in smaller towns like Independence.

“It’s a community project. It’s not about me. It’s about the community coming and paying respect,” he said.

Patrick Gilpin and his wife drove up to Independence from Iowa City to help, even though they didn’t know Smith.

“I’ve just been following the story on the news and know several highway patrolmen, and I’m a veteran obviously and just thought I’d come up and show our respect and honor the fallen patrol officer,” Gilpin said.

Tegtmeier, her two children, Kaitlyn and Braeden, and their friend, Trevor, showed up as well.

They call the Smiths their friends, getting to know them over the years through church.

“Jim was a good guy, a very good guy,” Tegtmeier said. “He loved God, he loved his church, his family, his job, and it’s a sad, sad loss for the community.”

It’s a loss Tegtmeier still can’t believe.

“When they said Jim Smith, just broke down crying. Yeah, we’ve lost a good, good man,” she said.

Smith was a man worthy of a tribute like the one paid to him along Independence streets, according to Tegtmeier, drawing in people he didn’t even know to honor him.

But, she said, that unfamiliarity wouldn’t have mattered.

“I don’t care who you are,” she said. “Everybody would’ve fallen in love with Jim. I don’t care if they got a speeding ticket, whatever. He was a good guy.”

Tegtmeier will drive past the flags again for her friend’s visitation on Thursday and funeral on Friday.

Hastings plans to take them down Saturday morning and will need more volunteer help to do that.

Even though the flags will eventually be gone, Tegtmeier said her memory — and her city’s memory — of Smith is one that will never be erased.

“He showed his love to everybody,” she said.

Now, with thousands of stars and stripes waving throughout his hometown in his honor, the favor has been returned.

“I’m proud of Independence for the showing of the love,” Tegtmeier said.

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