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Mercy Flights hoists the stars and stripes

With three years under his belt as an American citizen, flight paramedic Harry Viljoen was especially sentimental about the flagpole dedication outside the Mercy Flights hangar at the Medford airport Monday morning.

And it’s not just because he was instrumental in the installation.

When Viljoen, 48, who emigrated from South Africa in 2004, came to work for the regional emergency services provider three years ago, he said, it was the first organization or company he’d worked for that did not have the flag of his adopted homeland waving overhead.

Sharing the runway with the nearby airport and other entities, the Mercy Flights hangar and office facilities never included a separate flagpole.

Viljoen, who earned his American citizenship in 2017, says he’s especially patriotic when it comes to the red, white and blue, so he set about to make sure he would be greeted by the stars and stripes when he showed up to work each day.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to come to this country as an immigrant. It’s a lot of hard work, but this country offers and provides so much that you can achieve anything you want to with the right amount of hard work,” he said.

“I have worked for flight companies in the past, and all of them have always had the America flag on our uniform. Mercy Flights is a great company, but I noticed that we did not have a flag on our property, and so I brought it up.”

On Monday morning, several dozen Mercy Flights veterans gathered to dedicate the new flag in honor of staff members, past and present, serving in the armed forces, but also as a nod to Viljoen’s patriotism.

The dedication coincided with the anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

Mercy Flights CEO Sheila Clough said the flag raising — to half mast in honor of those lost in the attacks on Pearl Harbor — was long overdue.

“I just think it got overlooked as an organization, and there’s a flagpole at the airport, but the minute that Harry brought it to our attention, it was an easy decision to make,” said Clough.

“We view this as honoring our team members who are actively in the military or who are veterans, but also we are an American company and we have been in this community for the last 70 years. ... Our team embodies the community spirit, and so this flag also represents that American spirit that they serve with in our community each and every day.”

She added, “Today being remembrance of Pearl Harbor, we thought today was a really good day to remember those who have come before us, as well.”

Viljoen smiled as he looked at the new flag waving over his team and the place he spends much of his time.

“It represents a lot for our freedom,” he said. “And everything that our forefathers had worked for.”

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneMercy Flights crew members raise a new flag Monday in honor of the veterans who work there.