How one man crafts wooden flags to memorialize the fallen
Noel Greany is on a quest to remember the fallen and comfort the living
In a quiet neighborhood, nestled in the suburbs of greater Seattle, lives an unassuming man working hard to support his family. At first glance, you wouldn’t notice anything out of the ordinary; he works a 50-hour a week job, pays his bills, raises kids and mows his lawn. Sometimes. Actually, he focuses on the front lawn; the part that is most viewable to his neighbors. His backyard is usually comparable to an unkempt jungle. It’s not that he doesn’t care about the backyard. It’s just that, he’s a little busy.
For the past three years, Noel Greany has used most of his spare time and his personal finances to build wooden flags. Flags that carry a powerful meaning to both the builder and their recipients.
It all started in January 2018 when Pierce County Sheriff’s Deputy Daniel McCartney was murdered. Noel didn’t know Deputy McCartney personally, but he was moved by the tragic loss of a father, husband and Navy veteran.
Noel brainstormed building a gift that he could give to the family or Pierce County Sheriff’s Office. He envisioned a picture frame with a photo of Daniel, his service dates and a blue ribbon. A small tribute that would memorialize Daniel and hopefully in some small way, comfort the living. Noel finished the picture frame, but he knew that it wasn’t right. Noel wanted to make something classy, something better. Something that would properly honor the life of a hero.
Fast forward a few months to Mother’s Day. Noel made a couple of wooden American flags as gifts for family members. This was Noel’s first crack at woodworking and he was proud of his work.
Then two months later, Washington State law enforcement officers experienced another tragic loss when Kent Police Officer Diego Moreno was struck and killed by a police car on July 22, 2018, while deploying spike strips. Noel was at work when he learned of Officer Moreno’s death. This was when his idea of memorializing the fallen really started to take shape. He discussed with a coworker the idea of building a wooden, thin blue line flag. Noel was hesitant. He didn’t have a close relationship with Kent police officers. How would they receive it? Would it offer some form of comfort or cause them further pain? Noel’s coworker encouraged him to take the risk. As soon as Noel got off work, he started his first memorial flag.
Noel watched some YouTube videos and enlisted the help of a buddy with a laser engraver. He took the pain that he felt, that so many community members feel when a law enforcement officer dies, and poured it into this project. After hours of sanding, burning and doubting how it would be received, Noel finished his tribute to Officer Moreno.
Once finished, he quietly walked into the Kent Police Department, dropped off the flag and walked out. Noel was not looking for reception or recognition. He didn’t leave his name, phone number, or any other way for Kent Police to contact him. However, let’s face it, he was dealing with cops. Kent officers used their investigative talents to figure out the identity of this mystery man. When they finally did reach Noel, they thanked him for his work and asked for more flags. Officer Moreno’s family and other officers wanted their own flag.
Over the past three years, Noel has built thin blue line flags to memorialize fallen officers across the country. Nationally, Noel focuses his flag building on officers murdered by gunfire. Regionally, Noel builds memorial flags for other causes of death. In Washington State, every fallen police officer gets a flag.
He builds flags free of charge to families and police agencies. He pays for the flag supplies and the cost of shipping by building and selling other wooden products on his Facebook page Flags to Remember. Noel’s offerings make great retirement gifts; ranging from gear holders to shadow boxes, to other wooden flags. He has received support from others – one company, in particular, has donated thousands of dollars of cardboard to offset the cost of shipping. However, Noel still primarily funds this project with his own money.
It is challenging for Noel to keep up with the demand at times. Each flag takes about three hours to build. Memorial flags take priority over for-sale flags and custom orders. More and more people are recognizing Noel’s quality craftsmanship and ordering their own flag. Noel’s flags have ended up in the background of memorial services, Zoom training sessions and on Fox News national broadcasts. At one point, the demand was so high Noel left his job to make flags full time. After six months, Noel returned to work to maintain a more stable income.
Noel says that his flag-making mission hasn’t changed. He wants to make a difference in his community and across our nation by supporting law enforcement officers and their families. His reward is the personal satisfaction he feels knowing that his wooden flags are a proper tribute to a fallen hero.
Author’s note: I had the honor of knowing and breaking bread with Daniel McCartney, his wife and sons. He was a good man. Learning that Daniel’s death, painful and tragic as it was, moved Noel in the direction of honoring so many officers made this article extra special to write. I dedicate this article to Daniel’s wife who has done a remarkable job of writing new chapters for her boys!