Colors Over Bethel
Christian Hill Flag Is Raised Again
It was a beautiful day on Friday the 15th of September this year when Jim Benson and Sam Frank once again raised the American flag on the top of Christian Hill in Bethel.
After 47 years, the old base, which the two had dug by hand, had to be replaced.
What had taken the two only a weekend to do the first time, took more than a few hands and several days to accomplish this time. The idea of a flag on the top of the hill came to Jim and Sam when they were students at Whitcomb High School in 1962. They thought it would be nice for people driving through Bethel on Route 12.
The first flag was put in the top of a tree that the boys cleared the branches from. That flag didn’t fly well, so they cut down a tree for a pole and put it in the ground, but that didn’t work well either.
Louis Gaiko, owner of the property, hadn’t given permission for these activities but he eventually found out who was responsible.
After graduating from Whitcomb, Jim and Sam both volunteered to serve in the Armed Forces. Jim joined the Air Force while Sam the Navy. They stayed in touch.
When they returned to Bethel, Gaiko sought them out and asked if they would be willing to put up a real flagpole. They were happy to do it, and in August of 1970 the two men, with their families, spent two days digging the hole, mixing cement, painting the pole white. Using plow blades to hold the pole, they got the pole up with a flag flying.
The base that Jim and Frank built lasted for 47 years and saw the pole replaced four times. However, at the end of last summer it became clear that the base would need to be replaced.
Louie wanted the pole and flag to be in memory of his brother, Cpl. Joseph S. Gaiko Jr., who served in the 22nd Infantry Regiment of the Sixth Marine Division during World War II. How fitting that two young men from Bethel, who had served in the military, should be involved, he thought.
The Sixth Marine Division was created on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands in September 1944. While it was a new division, a majority of the infantry battalions had fought in at least one island battle and most in at least two battles.
The 22nd had fought in the invasion of Guam and was created for the purpose of invading Okinawa. The division suffered nearly 1,700 marines killed and more than 7,400 wounded in action. Cpl. Gaiko was among the casualties, dying, with honor, on May 10, 1945, and was awarded the Purple Heart. (It should be noted that he died on the same day that Sam Frank was born.)
Over the years, many people have contributed to the flag with time and muscles and donations of rope, fittings, paint, poles, cement, Bethel white granite and flags, etc. Two of the flags had flown over the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Each time the pole has been lowered and raised, it was rechristened with a couple of shots of scotch in honor of Gaiko, who made it all possible.
The property remains in the Gaiko family. They graciously open it to anyone wishing to hike, walk pets, snowshoe or cross-country ski.