'Old Glory' keeps Soldier safe, makes way home
Staff Sgt. Steve Mattox (left), a retiring Fort Polk Soldier, hugs his lifelong best friend, Christopher Henn, after returning to him the flag Henn's grandfather carried through Europe in World War II.

FORT POLK, La. -- Military retirement ceremonies are a time for saying goodbye to a career. Families and Soldiers invest in a way of life, and these ceremonies are a way of bidding farewell to those military traditions.

For one Fort Polk Soldier, the post retirement ceremony Jan. 26, was not only the culmination of his career, but also time to retire the flag that he credited with keeping him and its original owner safe through deployments since World War II.

"It's time for me to return the flag to its family," said Staff Sgt. Steve Mattox, a retiring Fort Polk Soldier from the 204th Military Police Company, 519th Military Police Battalion, 1st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade.

The story of the flag begins in 1939 when Marshal Lentz was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army upon graduation from Indiana University. Lentz's wife, Betty, gave her husband a folded American flag to signify his entry into the Army.

Several years later, when America was in the throes of World War II, Lentz carried the flag inside a rucksack across the terrains of Europe.

The flag served as a good luck charm and kept him out of harm's way, explained Christopher Henn, Lentz's grandson.

"Each time the flag was tattered or torn, the flag was disserviced and my grandmother would replace it," said Henn.

Lentz eventually returned home from the war, along with his flag. Throughout several commands and promotions, Lentz always displayed the flag in his office to remind him of his roots and how it kept him safe, explained Henn.

Lentz retired from Active Duty as a colonel in 1963, still in possession of his flag.

"Our family presented this flag to Steve (Mattox) before his deployment to Afghanistan in 2003," said Henn. "He is part of the family, and we felt he should have it."

Mattox and Henn met in the third grade and had been inseparable throughout their childhoods.

"We basically grew up as brothers," said Henn.

Mattox eventually enlisted in the Army, and the two remained best friends. Henn served a short duration in the Army Reserves, but the military was not a way of life for him. The family felt Mattox should have the flag to carry with him during deployments.

"For Steve, the Army was his 'calling' in life. For me, it wasn't. It was appropriate for him to carry the flag of my grandfather," said Henn.

Mattox carried the flag through Afghanistan, Iraq and Japan. "I've been carrying a piece of history with me, and it's brought me home," he said.

Henn agreed. "This flag went into combat with Steve, and he came home safely, just like my grandfather. Steve not only carried the flag, but he carried my grandfather with him as a guardian angel," said Henn.

Following the retirement ceremony and amid the draping flags at Warrior Community Center, Mattox presented the flag to Henn, returning it to the original owner's family.

With tears in his eyes, Henn accepted the flag.

"This flag is going home with me and will be displayed next to the flag that adorned my grandfather's casket," he said. It was time, Mattox said, for the flag to return home.

"This flag is retiring with me today," he said. "Its mission is complete."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16