Every Friday afternoon, drivers on U.S. 41 near the Old Lutz School are making hand gestures and honking their horns.
But they aren’t frustrated residents stuck in a traffic jam. The hand gestures are waves and thumbs-up, and they’re honking their horns at the Lutz Patriots, who line up American flags by the former school once a week.
The Patriots are not a political organization, but they do want to remind drivers that troops remain in harm’s way, and that military personnel and their families still need support.
According to member Bruce Hockensmith, people are getting the message.
“If you stand here and watch us, you’ll hear the horns honking and see the lights flashing,” Hockensmith said. “It’s like a silent majority, people who support the troops.”
The Lutz Patriots have waved to drivers almost every Friday since 2003. The group was founded by two sisters, Karen Williams and Barbara Mueller, who wanted to show support for a family member at a time when there was public anti-war sentiment during the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.
Now, a core group of about 10 make up the organization, who still line up flags by the school and still get a strong showing of support from the drivers who see them on their Friday afternoon travels.
The Lutz Patriots is mostly made up of retired military, and they recognize that their weekly message is seen by those who serve and their families, as well as the general public. Sometimes members of the military will stop and say hello and thank them for their display.
For Jim Russell, a Lutz resident who was in the U.S. Navy, it’s especially important that members of the military feel appreciated for their service. Russell was in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War, and received a negative, disrespectful reception when he came home.
“I got off the ship in San Francisco in 1967. Does that tell you anything?” he said. “I don’t want to see things get back to that. It’s part of the reason I’m out here.”
While the Lutz Patriots can be found waving their flags every Friday, it’s not the only place they make their presence felt. When the remains of a fallen soldier are returned via MacDill Air Force Base, the group sets up their flags along Bayshore Boulevard in South Tampa to let the grieving family know their sacrifice doesn’t go unrecognized.
They also send packages to troops stationed across the globe. Hockensmith, who served in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany during the Vietnam War, said the group recently spent more than $700 in postage to send out a series of packages.
Hockensmith has been with the group since they began their weekly event, and said it feels strange on the rare occasions when bad weather prevents them from being there. They want to make sure drivers take a moment to remember those who are around the world serving in the military.
“We just want to keep them aware that we do have guys and gals serving that are in harm’s way every minute of every day,” he said. “We don’t want those people serving out there to be forgotten.”
The Lutz Patriots start setting up flags around 4:30 p.m. every Friday. To contact the group or make a donation, visit LutzPatriots.com, or e-mail Hockensmith at .
Published May 21, 2014