BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN It has been at least 20 years since Pete and Pat Theis lived at the corner of 14th Street and Elm Avenue, but the American flag still flies on the flagpole they erected.
In fact, there are flagpoles on every corner of the intersection.
When the Theis family moved there in the mid-1970s, that was not the case. In fact, there were no flagpoles on the corner.
“He put one up and asked his neighbors if they would also put one up,” Pete’s son, Ken Theis, said. “They were happy to do so. Since that time, all four homeowners have flown the flag and keep our flag flying with no rips.”
Pete kept an eye on the flags to make sure they were in good shape.
“When it started getting tattered and torn, he would suggest to them, ‘You might want to switch your flag out,’” Ken said. “There was a Johnny Cash song: ‘The ragged old flag.’ It’s quite the story. He liked that one.”
Once the tradition was started, Ken believes it was easy to keep it going.
“They’ve done a nice job keeping them flying and in good shape,” Ken said. “If they got faded or torn, people took it upon themselves to keep them looking good. I’m sure neighbors talk. They probably told each other the story. I’m going to assume they said, ‘We’re going to keep it going.’ There’s no reason for it to stop. Why would anyone stop flying the flag?”
A life of service
Pete Theis was born in Watkins in 1925, the youngest of 10 children.
All four of his brothers served in the military.
For Pete, the decision was an easy one, Ken said.
“He was out pheasant hunting,” Ken said. “When he came out of the ditch, he learned that the Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor. He didn’t think the war would last long enough for him to get into the service. He wanted to do his part.”
Ken said his father lied about his age in order to enlist, which he and his brother did three days before Christmas.
Pete served as a mechanic with the Army Air Corps in Guam.
He wasn’t afraid to talk about his experiences or share his opinions.
“He thought everybody should go into the service for two or three years or whatever,” Ken said. “He didn’t like it when they quit the draft. He said everyone should at least get on a list. If they call you, then go.”
When he returned stateside, he became a member of the American Legion, which he was a part of for 70 years.
He proudly marched with the flag in parades.
“He quit marching when he was probably 85 or 87,” Ken said. “He said, ‘I can’t march anymore.’ They said, ‘We’ll put you in a Jeep. How about that?’”
Pete was also a firefighter for 34 years.
He passed away in November 2019. He was the last surviving WWII veteran in Delano.