What would you take with you if your house was on fire? It’s a question we sometimes ask ourselves — and one we hope to never actually answer.
Unfortunately, Dr. Noelle Nelson was faced with this dilemma in November 2018 when the Woolsey fire raged through her Californian neighborhood. She tried to grab as many things as she could before evacuating, but she was forced to leave so much behind, including a treasured American flag.
Her dad, Frank B. Cross III, was a scout for the U.S. Army during World War II. He had finished his service by the time she was born, but Noelle still remembers the rare moments when he would share details about his experiences in the military.
“He was very proud of his country and very proud of doing his service, but my dad was a very nonviolent person,” she said. “I think whatever he saw over there made it difficult for him to talk about.”
After her dad and mom passed away, she inherited the American flag that belonged to Frank from his time in the war. Noelle hung it proudly on a wall in her home for nine years. Understandably, this made it one of the hardest items for her to lose in the fire.
“When you have everything and then, literally, overnight it’s gone, it’s very bizarre,” Noelle said.
As she worked toward getting her life back together, Noelle was stunned by all the help and kindness others showed her, even a year after the fire.
A Navy veteran, David Ha, discovered Noelle’s story in a news article where she discussed coming to terms with losing irreplaceable belongings. Moved by what she had gone through, he reached out to her. With her permission, he passed her story along to an organization called Vietnam Veterans of Ventura County.
This amazing group, which began in 1985, has provided so much support for veterans. Their work includes financial aid, housing assistance, and counseling for service members with PTSD. As for Noelle, they offered to present her with a replacement flag, ceremony and all. Needless to say, she was stunned by their kindness.
“It’s hard to find the words,” she said. “It’s so emotional for me.”
Organized by volunteers from the Vietnam Veterans of Ventura County, the presentation ceremony took place the morning of December 11, 2019. The song “Taps” played as Noelle tearfully accepted the flag. In the 34 years that the group has been around, this was the first time they have ever replaced a flag for a fire victim.
“I think my father would be so pleased and honored by this gesture,” Noelle said. “Honestly, my father is probably grinning ear to ear in heaven.”
What a beautiful way to comfort someone who lost so much! Watch the emotional ceremony in the video below, and don’t forget to share this story.
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