Driving past Robert Fallin’s home in White Plains is an experience like no other.
Sitting in the center of his front yard is a tall metal post with three enormous United States, Marine Corps and POW/MIA flags that flap boldly when the wind blows. The flagpole is surrounded by a wraparound driveway long enough to take a stroll down memory lane and back again, adorned with a replica U.S. Navy A-7 Corsair II jet that used to appear in special parades as well two statues of soldiers saluting those who have fallen, and another one depicting a soldier kneeling beside a cross.
Whereas most people are convinced that ‘the grass is always greener on the other side,’ Fallin finds joy in using his immaculate yard to serve a greater purpose. Honoring military servicemen past and present is something he feels compelled to do as Fallin understands the value of recognizing all veterans and the sacrifices that their loved ones make daily.
“I’m a veteran so they mean a lot to me. The families need to be recognized, too, because they go through so much, especially for the veterans that didn’t come home,” Fallin said. “Everything that I have here at my home is about honoring those veterans.”
Fallin, a retired U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served as a mortarman in Operation Desert Storm of 1990-91 and was honorably discharged in 1996, said there are so many others like him out there that come from different walks of life. Several of his wife’s children, which he considers his own, and their spouses have also served in the Marine Corps and Navy.
One person near and dear to Fallin’s heart is his closest friend, Sherman Domfort, who passed away last year. Domfort was on 100% disability and had been exposed to Agent Orange during his service days as a load master in Vietnam. Fallin recalls a conversation with Domfort about how soldiers from the Vietnam era couldn’t even wear their uniforms off the plane upon returning home for fear of derision.
“Sacrifice goes with service, along with patriotism and love of country,” said Fallin, who was 33 years old when he attended the historic bootcamp known as Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina. “Branch of service does not matter. I served in Desert Storm and everybody worked together. If it wasn’t for the Air Force with all of the drone strikes, things would be totally different. We’re all in this together.”
Having also lost two uncles in the past three years that both served in World War II, one of which was a prisoner of war, Fallin made it his mission to pay homage, especially to WWII and Korean War veterans.
For the first time in more than three decades, Fallin replaced his old flagpole with a converted 28-foot ship’s mast to commemorate soldiers who lost their lives and the sacrifices that military families make everywhere, every day.
“I’ve lived here since 1987 and displayed the other flag pole for 32 years,” Fallin said. “It’s now 8 feet taller. I used to fly a 5-foot-by-8-foot flag but now it’s an 8-foot-by-12-foot flag.”
Camaraderie, fortunately, helped Fallin continue his mission on Oct. 17 as he and five of his friends came together to participate in a special flag dedication ceremony held at his home. retired Marine Cpl. Ed Pankovski, a Vietnam veteran who arrived in his antique 1962 Dodge M37 military truck that he restored, said Veterans Day is “a time to show some respect to the men and women that served before” one generation, and the “ones that will serve after.”
“I’ve seen a lot of people get killed which is unfortunate on both sides,” Pankovski said. “Without the veterans, where would we be today? … This is a free country no matter what people think.”
“It reminds me years ago what I used to do. I was a tech sergeant,” said Fallin’s neighbor, Edwin “Ed” Scott, an Army Air Corps and Air Force veteran who recalls being acknowledged personally by 32nd U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt. “I went in as a radio operator and ended up as a scout in the Army. … Got out in ‘45 and then in August of ‘46, I went into the Army Air Corps. … Pick out what you like to do and work hard at it.”
For Temple Hills native Eric Porter, who is also a Marine veteran and friend of Fallin’s, the best thing about being a veteran is that he gets to meet people from all walks of life. He said a lot of friendships can be initiated from one’s visual appearance, such as a hat or t-shirt symbolizing their military affiliation, or even at community clubs for veterans including the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, both of which Fallin is an active member.
“My thing is that if you have the opportunity to serve, go serve. You’ll get the real feeling of what it is like to be one, American, and two, a veteran that served for this country,” Porter said. “It means a lot. I’ve got good friends in the Army, Navy and the Air Force. I may tease them because they don’t wear that red and gold, but we’re still all brothers. There’s just no better feeling.”
Porter, now a Newburg resident, enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1984 at the age of 21. Porter also completed basic training at Parris Island, which he jokingly refers to as “the land that God forgot,” and then attended Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton for both motor vehicle operating and mechanic school.
After Camp Pendleton, Porter went on to his first full-duty station at Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., where he stayed for a little over two years. He then received orders to go to Kawela Bay, Hawaii, and stayed there for about six years while serving with the 1st Battalion 12th Marines, an artillery battalion charged with providing fires to support times of conflict.
Although he was deployed a lot, Porter said he loved being a Marine and traveling around the world. He had an opportunity to live in several other places including San Diego, Calif., and Okinawa, Japan, and eventually found himself serving in Operation Desert Storm before returning back to the states where he was stationed at Camp Lejeune again.
“That’s what you do all the way through. You rotate anywhere and around,” Porter said. “I did a total of 20 years and loved it.”
As the father of three biological kids and one stepson who is a sergeant in the Marine Corps, serving and protecting others is Porter’s passion. He retired as a corporal from the Prince George’s Police Department after serving 21 years and, just two weeks prior to Fallin’s flag dedication ceremony last month, was sworn in as a court security deputy with the Charles County Sheriff’s Office.
Porter said Fallin, who is also a former Prince George’s officer, has a big heart with good intentions which is evident by the bond that they’ve shared over the years.
“I was a school resource officer back in 2015 and went to Gwynn Park High School where [Fallin] was working as one of the security officers. That’s how we met and have been good friends ever since,” Porter said. “There’s nothing better than serving. To actually say that I’m a veteran, it was earned.”
“It’s amazing how compared to home, I experienced more peace in the midst of war than with some of the day-to-day things I do now. It’s hard to put into words,” said fellow Marine Corps veteran Thomas Brown Sr. who served in Operation Desert Storm alongside Fallin. “Our standard operation and procedure was to run out into a firing hole that was dug out in the sand. We had 13 scout attacks on our position. Twelve of them were intercepted by Patriot missiles, and one of them went into the Persian Gulf. Each time it went off, you never knew which one would be your last.”
One thing about the U.S., Fallin said, is that it has come a long way in terms of honoring and giving veterans the respect they deserve. Brown agrees that all service members should be recognized, reiterating the importance of Veterans Day and what it symbolizes from a soldier’s perspective.
“We were deployed the weekend before Thanksgiving in ‘90. When we met up with one of our senior sergeants that following weekend, he said, ‘OK, guys. We’re gonna have to use some courage. We have to take our fear and make it productive. Instead of being scared, be productive and look out for one another.’ That was just some of the things I recall that was kind of unique,” Brown said. “After being around sand for so long, I’ve grown to appreciate grass just a little bit more. And I tell you, the camaraderie is something that lives on. [Fallin] and I haven’t seen each other for years but we’ve always been brothers. When we did finally see each other at his dedication ceremony, it was priceless. It’s an awesome experience to hang with the guys again and look out for one another like we used to, which is pretty cool.”
Fallin said there is no better time than the present to gather around fellow soldiers as Veterans Day is about basking in one another’s admiration and love for America.
For Brown, he said it’s “kind of surreal” to know that someone like him was “granted an opportunity to wear a uniform” and be “a part of history.”
“As I get older, I look at what that uniform represents and the freedoms that we have, and how so many people from different countries are struggling just to get a piece of what we got,” said Brown. “It adds a little more flavor to what Veterans Day is all about. I think about all those who served and all those who wanted to serve. For those who couldn’t, they had just as much heart as I had to serve. That’s what the character of America is about — having a diverse group of people who share a common goal which is to protect and keep our freedom. I’m just grateful to be a part of it.”
If he had an opportunity to serve all over again, Porter said he “would do it in a heartbeat” but his wife often reminds him that nobody wants his “old butt” now that he’s retired.
Although today’s military culture is technologically advanced and far more complex politics wise compared to his era, Porter appreciates having an opportunity to learn and grow into a better civilian.
“Just talking to young Marines, even my son, the things that they do now versus what we did then, we did more hands-on stuff whereas today, there’s more technology put into it,” Porter said. “But I get to learn from the best of both worlds. We have to keep it there because that’s the only way it’s going to still work.”
Pomfret resident Curtis Carter, a retired U.S. Navy petty officer second class, said being called a hero is very humbling, especially for someone like him who “got to see the world” while doing what he loved.
“I enjoyed my service. It makes a real man or a woman out of you,” said Carter, a plane captain who specialized in aviation defense between 1961-1965 and has since retired from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory after 42 years, but still works there part-time as a consultant. “Be proud of the veterans. Be proud of the American flag because we know, as veterans, what respecting everybody, and this country, is all about.”
“It’s what brings us together. It’s an amazing and powerful feeling,” Fallin’s wife, Kimberly Fallin, added. “I’m proud to be a mom, wife, daughter and sister of all these people who have served for our country because they’re the ones that are protecting us. We’ve got to keep shining a light on the American flag and keep that flag flying.”
As for the mock A-7 military jet sitting on his front lawn, Fallin told his wife that if he were gone tomorrow, his one wish is to have it donated to the Maryland Veterans Museum at Patriot Park in Newburg.
“I just hope people will keep the veterans in their hearts and in their prayers, and help their families if they can,” Fallin said. “My dream is to get another car, make it olive drab and put a star on it. I want to transport veterans’ families to and from funerals one day. But I’m retired now and have my 89-year-old father with me full time, so I’m blessed to be able to do that.”