People who travel around Denver often spot someone tirelessly waving an American flag on a bridge overarching the highway. It doesn’t matter whether it’s sunny and hot, or cold and windy, you can always find the flag there. I’ve always wondered about the person behind the flag. Recently, while hiking near the bridge he frequents, I finally got the chance to meet him.
The man who just won’t stop waving the American Flag is 60-year-old Jeff McNamara. Jeff was born into a military family. His father fought in World War II, then served three tours of duty in Vietnam. Although Jeff never joined the military, he has always felt a special affinity towards veterans because of his father’s devoted service.
Jeff is a successful serial entrepreneur. He started his business by selling water equipment. After becoming seriously ill after drinking contaminated mountain water, he founded Water Purification USA in 1986, specializing in water treatment. His work has compelled him to travel around the world, working on a variety of water purification projects including treating contaminated water systems near Chernobyl in 1992, building a facility for the detoxification of cyanide in water from gold mines in Tajikistan, and consulting on the water system for the visitor center at Hoover Dam.
Most recently, he was part of the winning design team that converted the power created by ocean waves to make ocean water drinkable. At the height of Jeff’s business, he had 10 employees. Now, as he nears his well-earned retirement, he’s scaled down his business. Now, he is a team of one.
How to Help Heal the Country
Near the time of the 2016 election, Jeff saw the division and anger in our country and felt helpless. He wanted to do something to unify fellow Americans — he just wasn’t sure what.
One day, a radio show host challenged listeners to get off their “dead a–” and go do something for this country. Since Jeff views the American flag as a symbol of inspiration and unification, the idea of waving an American flag came to him.
Three days before the November election, Jeff stood on a bridge above I-285 and began to wave an American flag. In the beginning, he was nervous. But once he heard people honking their car horns as a sign of approval, he felt encouraged. He’s never looked back.
Since he still has a business to run, Jeff doesn’t go out to wave an American flag every day. But he keeps an American flag inside his car trunk. Two to three times each week, whenever he has some downtime to spare, he finds the nearest highway crossing and waves the American flag.
In the beginning, Jeff used to be able to wave the flag for more than two hours straight. According to Jeff, his record of waving the flag without stopping is four hours. Yet as Jeff became older, his arms tired more easily. Now, he tries to wave the flag for no more than an hour each time.
The day I met Jeff, he told me that his right arm was so sore the day before that he could barely raise a cup of coffee. Yet he somehow found the strength to wave the flag again a day later.
Come Rain, Or Shine
Jeff has waved the flag in all kinds of weather. He told me bad weather doesn’t necessarily bother him, but the wind can be a real problem sometimes. His worst experience was on one Thanksgiving when he was trying to wave the flag on the bridge at the C-470 and Alameda crossing. The wind was blowing 60-70 miles an hour and ripped Jeff’s flag clean off of its pole. As he was walking off the bridge, the wind blew him into a fence. It sounded like a scary experience, but Jeff just laughed it off. “That was fun,” he reminisced, “But maybe there are some occasions I’m not supposed to do this, I guess.”
I asked him what kind of feedback he has received over the years. Jeff said there has been much positive feedback. Often, cars passing by will honk, and some will flash their lights or wave a “V” sign back at him. One person parked his car nearby and came up to salute the flag. It turned out he was about to be deployed to Iraq in a few days.
Highway patrol officers treat Jeff as one of their own. They often stop by and flash their siren lights as a sign of support. Some have even waved the flag for a while to give Jeff a little break. Some people on bikes or foot would give Jeff a high five as they crossed the bridge. Jeff said what he enjoys most was when little kids come up to him. He helps them hold the flag pole so their parents can take pictures.
Pushback for Patriotism
What about any negative reactions? I asked Jeff. He admits there have been some. He has received middle fingers and profanities. The hostility increases whenever he wears his “Make America Great Again” hat.
Jeff told 9News, a local TV station affiliated with NBC, that once when he was waving the American flag while wearing his MAGA hat on a bridge, someone in a car yelled profanities at him and then tried to run him over. I asked him if he reported the incident to the police, but Jeff just shook his head.
He told me he never lets negativity bother him. “Maybe they had a bad day, or some of them don’t really understand what the flag means,” he wonders, ”so they acted in a way that’s more ignorant than malicious.”
Moreover, the extensive time he has spent abroad makes him appreciate the freedom he and other Americans enjoy, and often taking for granted. He told me: “The message of the American flag is a statement for liberty and freedom. I don’t do it only for Republicans or Democrats. I am doing it for all Americans. Seeing the flag is a reminder of the freedom we have and how much we should cherish it.”
I understand Jeff doesn’t want to focus on the negatives. Still, the attacks he sometimes faces are horrendous. After 9News aired an interview with Jeff in 2017, the news station said they received emails after emails, attacking Jeff for being a Donald Trump supporter and attacking the station for allowing Jeff to share his story and ideas on air.
One person wrote that she was horrified that 9News put a Trump supporter on TV and called Jeff a bigot. Another person wrote that allowing a Trump supporter to talk about patriotism on TV is “an affront to basic human decency.”
After reading some of these email complaints, the news anchor asked: “Are some of the progressive Coloradoans so used to seeing liberals on TV that the very sight and sound of a Trump supporter offering his perspective of a path to unity, be it right or wrong, that’s appalling?” The same news anchor concluded, “If anything, we ought to include more conservative perspectives around here and elsewhere on the news to better reflect the political balance of the state.”
That was 2017. Since then, the left’s intolerance of conservatives, especially towards Trump supporters, has only gotten worse. Had 9News aired Jeff’s interview today, many more viewers would likely tell the station that Jeff’s image and words are a form of violence and make them feel unsafe. Senior management of the station would likely apologize and someone at the station who worked on the story could lose his job.
Maybe It’s Time to Take a Drive
I asked Jeff how long he plans to wave the American flag on bridges over highways. He said he will keep doing it as long as he is physically able. Since our country is more divided than ever, Jeff hopes that seeing the flag will remind all Americans, regardless of their political affiliations, of our shared values as a nation. As former president Calvin Coolidge once said, “We identify the flag with almost everything we hold dear on earth, peace, security, liberty, our family, our friends, our home.”
It’s easy to feel down and hopeless sometimes, especially given all the political bickering, the prolonged shutdown, a pandemic that refuses to go away, and the fear that we may never get back to normal. But if you live near Denver and find yourself feeling down one of these days, maybe you should go for a ride. Somewhere along with one of these highways, the sight of Jeff waving the American flag may help you renew your faith in this nation and your fellow Americans.