Burial flag sold at FL flea market returned to soldier's relative in PA

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All it took for Tina Callen's instinct to kick in was one star showing from a partially-open box at the flea market at Hillsborough and 22nd.

For $25, she bought the box containing a 5' by 9' flag and a letter dated September 29, 1951, from Arlington National Cemetery to Frank Fischer of Central Pennsylvania.

"It was just a feeling about it. That it should have something better than the ground of the flea market," she said. "I knew we couldn't leave without it. I knew it had to be a burial flag."

The letter said, "The flag was draped over the coffin of your late beloved son, Ralph R. Fischer."

When Callen realized what she had picked up at the flea market, she decided to mail it to Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Pittsburgh.

The memorial hall posted on Facebook, hoping to find the Fischer family. The post was shared 400 times.

"By Monday, [memorial hall staff] had a contact of the nephew who was the namesake of the gentleman who was killed," said Callen.

Ralph R. Fischer's nephew - Ralph J. Fischer - was contacted on Facebook by someone who saw the post.

"It is something I always talked about, being my namesake," said Ralph J. Fischer. "I always talked to my parents and said, 'Hey, I would love to have that flag.'"

The last he knew, his grandparents had it at their nursing home in Fort Lauderdale. But they died 20 years ago. 

Without the flag, he clung to pictures and stories of his fallen uncle. Ralph R. Fischer was a month shy of his 21st birthday when he was killed in Korea.

"I had no clue where [the flag was]," said Fischer. "I never got to meet him."

Tuesday, thanks to Tina and the folks at Soldiers and Sailors, the wait was over. 

"It brings it home," said Fischer. "A sense of reality. It is real life history. Having it in front of you."

Now, after 67 years and a trip from Tampa to Pittsburgh, the flag has found its way to its rightful place.

"I am so glad we didn't just walk by it," said Callen. "I am just at a loss for words. It is just heartwarming that the flag is not being disposed of, but is going to a family member that can cherish it and pass it along."

How did the flag get from a nursing home in Fort Lauderdale to a flea market in Tampa? That mystery may never be solved.