A flag that has gone through the Iraqi desert, good times at the bar and a fire, has come out of it all no worse for wear.
“That flag’s traveled, it’s gone a long ways to be where it’s at,” said twice retired National Guardsman Jim Gorka.
After he retired the first time from the Guard, Gorka learned a unit of the Red Bull Division, which included many of his friends, was being deployed to Iraq in 2005, he immediately knew what to do.
“I called the recruiter and I said, ‘I want to be on that deployment and I’ll re-enlist if I have to,’” Gorka said.
He re-enlisted Aug. 6, 2005, and left for training Sept. 21, 2005. By March, he and the rest of his unit were on their way to Iraq.
There, the group performed maintenance and security at Al-Taqaddum Airbase, located about 46 miles from Baghdad, and at Camp Liberty just outside the Iraqi capital.
While on leave back in the states, Gorka married his longtime girlfriend Tammy, and celebrated his 40th and 41st birthdays, both of which he spent in the Middle East.
In Iraq, Gorka acquired three flags, one for his new in-laws, one for himself and Tammy and finally one for his parents, John and Joyce Gorka, who owned Herbie’s Bar in Sobieski and placed the flag in a trophy case at the bar.
Fast-forward to June 12. Gorka and his wife were sitting at their home in Flensburg watching television, when he received a text from a friend saying there was a fire at Herbie’s Bar.
He and Tammy jumped in their truck and headed down to the bar, where they stayed with family to support each other as the building burned down.
As the incident unfolded, Gorka said he chose to stay on location to wait for the fire to die down and hopefully find anything that survived.
At one point, Gorka saw the flag as the fire had mostly died down and was excited to see it was fine.
Then, a back-hoe knocked down the wall holding the trophy case, and Gorka believed that water and soot would be in the box when he next saw it.
“This was one of the things I was hoping would make it out, because my mom was really proud she had it,” Gorka said.
Sadly, Joyce passed away in 2013. Among the other treasured items at the bar was a large photo of her, which Gorka said suffered minor water damage.
Even though he was in his 40s at the time, Gorka felt his parents were still as proud of him enlisting as they would have been when he was young.
“If my mom and dad weren’t proud of me, they would have just set it in the house. But they put it in the bar where everybody could see,” Gorka said.
After he took the flag back to his home in Flensburg, Gorka asked a neighbor if he could fly the flag on his flagpole to see if it had suffered any damage and needed to be retired.
“I couldn’t believe it when we opened it up and there was no damage to the flag,” Gorka said.
Seeing the flag come out all right also meant a lot to him, because of what it represents, Gorka said.
“It represents our way of life, our freedom. The things that other people would love to have throughout the world,” Gorka said.
He plans to restore the box the flag was kept in, where it will stay.