By Bob Uphues
Every year on July 4, small American flags appear along the sidewalks of the Hollywood section of Brookfield as if by magic — one in front of every house, more than 600 in all. Many people pluck the flags from the parkway and bring them along to the village's Fourth of July parade, waving them along the route as the parade passes by.
Of course, the flags don't get there magically. They've been planted in the ground throughout Hollywood for the past five years, courtesy of Agnes Halmon and her family, who live in south Hollywood.
A real estate broker with Coldwell Banker in LaGrange, Halmon said she had seen other real estate agents plant flags in front of their listings on the Fourth and had heard of Realtor Joe Niego, who for years has planted thousands of little flags (with his business card attached, as Halmon does) in neighborhoods on Chicago's Southwest Side.
Niego has caught some flak for the practice, which some people see as an improper use of the flag to advertise. Southtown Star columnist Phil Kadner wrote about the practice back in 2008.
But Halmon says the gesture stems from her personal connection to the U.S. military through two of her brothers and three nephews who are presently serving in the armed forces.
She started placing the flags in south Hollywood in 2009, the year her older brother, Air Force Lt. Col. Joseph Thill, and her younger brother, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Nicholas Thill, were deployed overseas simultaneously.
"We didn't know where they were or what was going on," Halmon said.
Her brothers are still in the service. They've been joined by three nephews, who are in the Marines, Navy and Air Force.
That first year, Halmon, her husband Michael, and their three children carpeted south Hollywood in the flags. The following year they doubled the number and included the north part of Hollywood. But 500 flags weren't enough. This year, the family planted 630.
According to Halmon, they set out after dark and finish up about 4-5 hours later, well after midnight. When the morning sun rises, the flags are there to greet the holiday.
"This is a tradition for us now," Halmon said. "It's exciting for the kids; it's like staying up for Christmas."
She gets recognized now around town and at the July 4 picnic in the park as the "flag lady." Others with family members in the service have also reached out to her and shared their stories.
"I started getting streams of people sharing their stories with me," Halmon said.
One woman called her to talk anxiously about her son, who was overseas. The following year, she called back, elated, to let Halmon know her son had returned. When Halmon called a year later to see how she was doing, the woman burst into tears.
"He wasn't the same person he was when he left," the woman told Halmon.
The reaction to the flags — people will call her if she's missed any locations — is what keeps the tradition going, she said.
"The reason I continue is because the response I received was amazing," Halmon said.