How a lost, folded flag memorial found a Lebanon, Mo. man who needed its help

Published: Oct. 23, 2020 at 5:47 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 23, 2020 at 5:50 PM CDT
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LEBANON, Mo. (KY3) - A good deed by a truck driver from Lebanon, Mo. turned out to be a spiritual gift for both him and the people he helped.

If you believe in serendipity, a chance meeting that was simply meant to be, then this is the story for you.

Robert Cruz in a Marine Corps veteran and truck driver who delivers Tracker boats made in Lebanon, Missouri all across the country from coast-to-coast. He’ll never forget a return trip from Arizona this past week when he noticed an object along a road in New Mexico.

“I saw this triangle which symbolizes a departed service member," he said as he pointed to a folded flag inside a triangular case that is often given to veterans’ families at memorial services. "I stopped in the middle of the road, turned on my flashers, bailed out of my truck and ran back to the flag.”

Cruz recognized the folded flag case because he has one on the mantle in his Lebanon home. It’s in memory of his son Joel, who wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by joining the Marine Corps.

But upon returning from Afghanistan, both Joel and a close friend of the family, Ricky, committed suicide within four years of each other.

“My son shot himself at Applebee’s in Lebanon January 16th of 2018 and Ricky committed suicide July 1, 2014 which is our (wedding) anniversary," Cruz said. "And I’ve just been a ball of anger. I’ve had hate.”

After recovering the lost folded flag Cruse opened up the case and discovered that the memorial belonged to the Navajo Hopi Honor Riders, a group dedicated to honoring and supporting military families including providing motorcycle escorts at funerals.

Cruse contacted the group and found out that the folded flag had fallen off a motorcycle and a frantic search had been going on to find it. The organization was so happy to hear of the case’s recovery that two representatives rode 1,200 miles and 17 hours from Flagstaff, Arizona to Cruz' home in Lebanon.

On Thursday night beneath a crescent moon, total strangers bonded over their love of the flag.

“Oh my God I’m so happy that you found the flag," said NHHR representative Geri Hongeva as she threw her arms around Cruz and begin to cry. "It means everything!”

The group then headed inside Cruz’s house to eat and see the flag.

As Cruz handed the folded flag case to Hongeva, she leaned over until their heads rested on each other.

“I’m sorry for your loss," she said to Cruz. "I hope that in the short time you had (the flag) that it brought you a little bit of comfort. And I think of everybody in this world of more than 8 billion people, you were the one chosen.”

“They said the flag had chose me," Cruz said as his voice cracked. “Because they said all who touches this flag will be healed.”

“This is where it was destined to be, to be with his family,” Hongeva said. “That’s what the flag is for because it always represents honor and respect for our veterans and loved ones. Our fallen heroes.”

Hongeva presented each member of the Cruz family with several items of gratitude from a certificate of appreciation to Navajo tea to sage.

“It basically gets rid of negative energy and makes you feel a lot better," Hongeva said of the sage.

But the biggest present of all?

“Since I found this flag I’ve had a lot more joy than I’ve had in a long time," Cruz said. “It helped put a smile on my face and live a life that they would want me to live and not choose a path of destruction.”

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