A crisp new United States flag flapped in the wind on Etta Avenue, but it hadn’t always been there.
Moments before, a tattered and worn U.S. flag flew over the home of Henry and Norma Carroll. Long pieces of fabric clung to the flagpole while the flag looked primed to rip at any second.
That’s what brought the Ellis County Marine Corps League, a local cub scout pack and the Knights of Columbus to the couple’s front lawn across the street from Northside Elementary School on Wednesday.
Dozens of people watched as the Ellis County Marine Corps League retired the nearly 20-year-old flag; however, the fanfare wasn’t for the flag. It was for Henry Carroll, a 93-year-old World War II Marine veteran, who served from 1943-46.
“It’s a chance for the scouts to honor this man,” said Shirley Darnall, Cub Scout Pack 681 committee chairperson. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see something like this.”
Darnall noticed the worn flag weeks before the Tuesday flag retirement and decided to ask the homeowner if the pack could retire the flag. After speaking to Norma Carroll, Darnall knew something more than a regular flag retirement needed to be done.
“[Henry’s] just a proud marine,” Darnall said.
Norma and Henry Carroll married 24 years ago when the couple was 55 and 70, respectively. They moved to their Waxahachie home two years ago, a little before Henry Carroll was placed in Focused Care assisted living.
Throughout their marriage, the couple traveled the country to attend Marine gatherings and reunions. For Henry, serving in the Marines was a significant part of his life. And it continues to be 76 years since his enlistment.
Upon walking through the front entrance of Focused Care, it’s nearly impossible to miss where Henry lives. An American flag is pinned on his door, the Marines seal hangs on the wall behind his brown reclining chair and a Marines blanket sits beneath him.
Henry's wife visits him every afternoon, and on Friday he donned the new Ellis County Marine Corps League hat he was gifted by the organization three days prior. The World War II veterans hat, which he customarily wears, sat beside him.
“I asked him what hat he wanted to wear, and he chose that one,” Norma said.
When Darnall asked Norma Carroll if the troop could retire the flag, she cried, Darnall said. The Carroll family had been meaning to replace the flag before Henry was placed in a home, but they never got the chance.
So Darnall took it out of their hands and made it happen.
She knew it needed to be more than the cub scouts retiring the flag and called Waxahachie resident Eric Valdez for help.
"I really wanted to make this special," Valdez said.
He called the Ellis County Marine Corps League — which started its Ellis chapter about two years ago — and told them the situation. Without hesitation, they were there.
"I just started spreading the word to everyone I knew," he said.
Valdez added the turnout of support was remarkable for a hero like Henry. Plus, it was a chance for the young cub scouts to watch a flag retirement.
"I think its an awesome experience they got to see," he noted.
Glen Parker, the Ellis County Marine Corps League public affairs officer, led the flag retirement and thanked Henry for his service.
"There needs to be more of this, and we can't forget these folks," he added. “We're losing these folks awful fast.”
His organization travels as far as they are needed when it comes to Marine events. He said the group wants to respect their fellow Marines throughout their lives like they are doing for Henry.
"We want to make sure they get the honor guard that they were due," Parker said. "This means a lot to us."
Parker lowered the time-worn flag, folded it into a triangle and laid it on Henry's blanket-clad lap. His hands clasped the torn flag with faded blue and red fabric.
The cub scout troop saluted the new U.S. flag as it was hoisted to its new place atop the flagpole.
“It was wonderful,” Henry said with a toothless grin on his face.
Norma stood by his wheelchair wrapped in a Marine jacket and watched her husband with a smile.
“I’m just so amazed that people would care enough to do this,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I feel like we moved into a den of angels.”
Samantha Douty, @SamanthaDouty