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Dawson-area U.S. Navy veteran’s flagpole honors fellow service members
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U.S. Navy veteran John Croix’s new flagpole, pictured here with his son’s vintage car, displays flags from four military branches in his front yard to honor former and current service members. Photo submitted to DCN.

Ever since his move to the Dawson County area in 2018, retired U.S. Navy senior chief petty officer John Croix has been determined to honor fellow service members with yardside flags. 

After two unsuccessful attempts, John has finally realized his long-held goal, with the American and four military branch flags now proudly hoisted atop a custom flagpole in his front yard.

This story continues below.

Veterans from John’s Wednesday breakfast group helped him hoist the flags for the U.S. government, army, navy, air force and marines during a Nov. 19 ceremony in front of his Williamson Road home. 

The ceremony followed two months of efforts by John, son Gary Croix and a former neighbor and friend, Bobby Summers. 

When John and his wife, Mary Frances, lived on Red Rider Road, he’d tried to put up a cheap flagpole with the American flag before, but the wind broke it down twice, he said. 

So, John set his sights on a bigger display and found a viable option through the Ohio-based Admiral Flag Poles company. He saw the company’s pole with a yardarm and mount on each end. 

The only problem was that John wanted to display flags from four branches, not just two. So they added two more hoists and took the three existing cleats or flag lines, which were screwed into the flagpole, and mounted them on horizontal boards installed at the bottom of the flagpole. 

Two new flag lines were also mounted along the boards’ horizontal formation.

John said Gary helped with a lot of the work, particularly the labor-intensive portions. 

Cement had to be placed around the ground pipe into which the flagpole would fit. John also rented a manlift to pick up and drop the pole into the pipe. 

“That flagpole is over 35 feet tall, and it takes a lot of weight in the bottom to keep it from falling over,” John said. “We put 129 sacks of concrete in the bottom.”

They also installed lighting so that the flags could be continuously displayed. Otherwise, John said he’d have to take the flags down at sunset daily. And that wouldn’t be an easy task to do alone, such as with the American flag’s six-by-10-foot size, he added. 

“He said he’s never seen a yardarm with four hoists on it before,” John said of Admiral Flag Poles owner Rick Henne. “And he’d never seen one with a cleat arrangement like I'd made, so he was very impressed.”  

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Ret. navy senior chief petty officer John Croix served in the military between 1961-1988. Photo by Julia Hansen. - photo by Julia Hansen

Years of service

John Croix served in the navy over the course of 26-and-a-half years, retiring as a senior chief petty officer. Between his stints in the military, he spent several years out doing related civilian jobs. 

Like many Americans his age, John served during the Vietnam War, entering the military in 1961. That wasn’t the only big change in his life around that time, though.

John said he and Mary Frances, who were “high school sweethearts,” wed right after he completed boot camp in April 1961.

He learned the ins and outs of being a jet mechanic at a naval air station in Beeville, Texas, before going to nuclear power school. 

So began multiple several-month-long deployments for John, each followed by three-to-six-month stints back in the U.S before the next assignment.

In October 1965, John first deployed on the nuclear-powered destroyer-type ship the USS Bainbridge. The vessel was the fourth ship to carry that name and the first of its kind in the navy, according to the military branch’s history website. 

During the ninth-month deployment, he worked as a steam plant mechanic, helping run the ship’s engine room. Throughout that time, the ship navigated the Vietnamese coasts providing gunfire support to military personnel in the country, John said. 

The destroyer’s personnel also monitored maritime trade to make sure arms and munitions weren’t getting from North Vietnam to its Viet Cong allies to the south. 

As they navigated waters off of eastern Asia, John said his ship would have to use the Philippines as a stopping point in between Hong Kong or Taiwan and Vietnam due to conditions set out in various international treaties. 

As part of military efforts, the ship also fired harassment and interdiction shell rounds around the enemy’s locations. 

“It was to keep them up and deny them sleep,” said John, “but mostly, it denied us sleep.”

After the USS Bainbridge deployment, John served on the USS Maddox. While tinkering with a bearing on the ship’s main deck one day, he was unknowingly sprayed with the harmful Agent Orange, a chemical herbicide used by the U.S. military.

At the time, John said he wasn’t wearing a hat and thought the droplets hitting his head were just from a plane dumping fuel before landing. 

“After I retired, I came down with diabetes, and there was no trace of it in my family. I didn't know where it came from,” John said. “I thought Agent Orange only affected the guys in [the] country, and then I found out I got sprayed.”

Agent Orange has been linked to millions of Vietnam veterans’ deaths and/or illnesses. In 2019, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act added over 1.8 million sailors to the federal government’s compensation program for service members exposed to the toxic chemical.

Following the second deployment, John temporarily exited the navy and attended aircraft mechanic school. He went on to work at multiple aircraft engineering companies, followed by his job working for the U.S. Postal Service.

After his reentry into the navy, John was stationed on an amphibious ship for 15 months. Then came a stint from 1976-1979 on the USS Kirk, the destroyer-class escort best known for its previous efforts in the evacuations from Vietnam. 

During that deployment, John was stationed at the U.S. Navy’s Yokosuka Naval Base, located in Japan’s Tokyo Bay along eastern Honshu, the country’s main island. While he frequently came and went on deployments, his family adjusted to daily life in a small fishing village. 

Since many Japanese people spoke English at the time, it wasn’t difficult for them to make their way around the city. Mary Frances took part in regular outings to make arts and crafts with area women, while an elementary-aged Gary played and shared American culture with his Japanese peers.

John’s family was also taught the right way to cook rice, as shared when a Japanese male college student visited them one time to practice his English.

“She (Mary Frances) made it just the way she’d always made it, [with] two cups of rice and four cups of water in a pan. He told her ‘You can't make rice like that. You have to have a rice cooker,’” John recounted. “And the next time he came, he brought us a rice cooker so we could cook rice properly.”

Interestingly enough, Gary would later enter the Navy and serve at the U.S. Marine Corps’ Iwakuni base, located on southwestern Honshu, from 1993-1996. 

After serving in Japan, John was sent to the naval air station in Kingsville, Texas, where he served in supply and public safety roles, including as the station’s master of arms or police chief. 

Then in 1982, John relocated to Norfolk, Virginia, where he served until 1985 on the USS John King. After that assignment, he got orders to serve on a battleship, but he faced a dilemma–he wanted to be able to attend Gary’s upcoming wedding. 

“They said, ‘We’re going to deploy. You can't go,” John recalled of his superiors. “And I said, ‘wrong answer.’ I wasn't there when he was born. I wasn't there when he graduated high school. I thought, ‘I’m going to be there when he gets married.’”

Instead, John was transferred to Norfolk’s type desk within the Naval Surface Forces Atlantic. For the next three years, he was responsible for handling vessel maintenance orders to be fulfilled by the shipyard or by a contracted third party.

Then in June 1988, when it was time for him to go back out to sea, he decided he was tired, enough so to put in his retirement papers. 

He worked for about 10 years with a company that handled similar navy ship contracts, but after U.S. military budgets were slashed in the late 1990s, he stepped down from working there, too. 

The decrease in military contracting put “so many people out of business in Norfolk, it wasn’t funny,” John said.

Even after people were laid off from such businesses, employers would later hire back on many workers to complete projects still trickling through before laying them off again, he added. 

After moving on to another manufacturing-related job, John retired from civilian work several years ago, with he and Mary Frances eventually moving down to northeastern Georgia. 

Now, John can appreciate the most recent fruit of his and his helpers’ labors–the flagpole. 

One car passing by his front yard honked and waved in approval while the pole was being installed. After the flags were raised, an elderly couple also driving by stopped to visit, drawn in by the patriotic display.

“They live down the road about a mile from us. He’s retired from the [U.S.] Army,” John said of the husband, “and he came to ask me about the flagpole and where it came from.”