We got this e-mail about three weeks ago:
I would like to volunteer to help on or about Nov 6th, when I will be traveling in the NH area. My son Adam just deployed to Iraq yesterday for a year and my nephew Dennis gave the ultimate sacrifice while serving in Iraq in 2006. Your creative efforts to support our soldiers is very appreciated. I run an informal fundraiser every year on the weekend that Daylight Savings falls back. Always looking for a worthy organization to benefit. Let me know if you have an opening for that weekend. Thank You, Gary Flanagan
So along came November 6, yesterday, and sure enough, there was Gary Flanagan of eastern Tennessee — originally from upstate New York and then Rhode Island — in his rented Honda Accord at the Epsom Central School gym.
We packed 1,500 foul shots into our two hours of shooting, but there’s really not much to say about that. I had a good day of shooting, and he had a good day of rebounding. We were a technically sound, efficient team. But aside from the foul shots, I’ve got a few things to mention under the subject line of “Our Day with Gary Flanagan.” So here they are …
1. As I write this, Gary is driving through Tennessee, which wouldn’t be all that big a deal (The guy’s from Tennessee, after all), except for the fact that nine hours ago he was in Maine, and Tennessee is the thirteenth state he’s driven through since the clock struck midnight, like so …
Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, (Virginia again), and Tennessee … so far. As I type this sentence, he’s probably crossing the North Carolina border. His goal: to break the unofficial record of 21 states in one day, to raise money for a number of charities he’s supporting, including the Sgt. Dennis James Flanagan Foundation, dedicated to the memory of his nephew. More on Dennis below.
This isn’t the first time he’s done this “How Many States” thing. His previous best is 16 states (he says he knows what corrections he needs to make), and apart from this particular challenge, he once hit all 50 states (driving through the land-bound 49 and flying to Hawaii) in eight days, 20 minutes, as part of a fundraiser in support of the victims of the The Station nightclub fire in Rhode Island.
Right. This is a pretty cool guy we’re talking about.
2. I mentioned to Gary that HFH is scheduled to make an appearance on Mike Huckabee’s show (taping Nov. 20, airing on Thanksgiving, I think), and Gary said he has his own Mike Huckabee story, which goes something like this:
Gary was in Virginia in December of 2008, soon after the presidential election in which Huckabee had been a Primary candidate. It was early one morning. Gary was making his appointed rounds as part of his job in the circulation department at USA Today, and there, wearing a hooded sweatshirt walking down the street, was Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Gary let him pass without saying a word, but not long after that, he saw the Governor again, this time talking with a food service delivery woman. And then, Gary noticed, Gov. Huckabee pulled out his wallet and handed the woman some money.
Intrigued, Gary approached Gov. Huckabee and told him what he had seen, telling him how cool he thought it was, and saying, “It comes around,” then handing the Governor a $5 bill. Gov. Huckabee told him he had begun talking with the woman and learned she was a single mom, holding it together for her family. “I just thought she could use a little help,” he told Gary.
Keep in mind, Gov. Huckabee’s presidential campaign season had ended. There were no crowds, no cameras. For that moment, he was just one person helping another person, and Gary thought it was pretty darned great.
That night, Gary went to the Governor’s book signing (Aptly, “Do the Right Thing” is the name of the book), and Gov. Huckabee remembered him. “That was a pretty cool thing this morning, wasn’t it?” the Governor said.
“Pretty cool,” Gary answered.
3. See that T-shirt Gary’s wearing up there? It says SGT. DENNIS JAMES FLANAGAN FOUNDATION, in memory of Gary’s brother’s son, who died on January 20, 2006, serving in Iraq. Four-and-a-half years before his death, September 11, 2001 happened. Dennis was an 18-year-old kid at the time. Here’s what he wrote shortly after the attacks:
My parents, relatives, friends and loved ones are all trying to understand my decision to enlist. I cannot really explain it in terms of a material thing. I am not enlisting to avenge the attacks on America. I am not enlisting for the money or benefits. I am enlisting for a more idealistic and duty bound reason.
One idea is the center piece of America: freedom. The freedom to live as one feels, to pursue happiness, and live without fear. Yes, the freedom from fear.
I am enlisting to protect my countrymen from fear. I cannot sit idly by as my country prepares for war.
“Heroism” is defined differently by different people. What you just read … that’s my definition.