Every morning, the rainy ones being the exceptions, Foyal Sneed makes his rounds.
Up one side of Turlock’s Penn Avenue, then down the other. And by the time he’s back home, he’s placed Old Glories at 16 homes, including his own.
Patriotism, he will tell you both in words and by example, isn’t limited to the Fourth of July, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Flag Day. It’s a year-round love affair with the good ol’ U.S. of A. It’s about being a good American by being a good citizen and good neighbor. It’s about looking out for others, stepping up to help when they need it or because it just seems like the right thing to do, just like mowing seven of his neighbors’ lawns seems like the right thing to do.
“I like the exercise,” Sneed said.
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The same applies to his daily flag routine. The 70-year-old Turlock native began the practice after moving back home five years ago to help care for his ailing mother, who is now in a rest home.
Sneed graduated from Turlock High in 1962 and immediately went to work for Sears. Duty called in 1965, when he enlisted in the Air Force and soon found himself in Vietnam serving as a personnel specialist.
“I sent people into crappy places and stayed in my office,” he said.
When Sneed mustered out in 1969 and returned to Sears, the company sent him to Grass Valley. He managed a store there, and you couldn’t make up the names on his staff roster if you tried. “Of course, I’m Foyal,” he said. “My assistant manager was named Royal. The service tech was named Doyle and one of my employees’ husbands was named Loyal. The paper up there had some fun with that.”
Want more quirkiness? Two birthdays cover four members of his family. He and his mother share the same day – April 18 – while his brothers, six years apart in age, share April 29.
Sneed eventually left Sears to work for Harold Berliner, the longtime Nevada County district attorney who co-wrote the Miranda rights warning now used throughout this nation and many others whenever someone is arrested.
“ ‘You have the right to remain silent,’ ” Sneed said. “Those were his words.”
After 20 years with Berliner, Sneed retired and moved home to Turlock. He’d flown an American flag every day wherever he lived, and his mother’s Penn Avenue home is no different.
“I started talking to people about putting their flags out every day,” he said. “I’d say, ‘If you have a flag, I’d be glad to put it up and take it down.’ ”
He researched flag protocol, getting some help from the Veterans of Foreign Wars calendar to know which days it should be flown at half-staff, how to properly dispose of a retired flag, etc. Neighbor Mary Krupka helps him with the disposals.
He knows which flag belongs in front of which house up and down the street.
“Every morning, every night,” neighbor Tim Barbera said. “If somebody’s pole bracket breaks, he goes down to Orchard (Supply Hardware) and uses his 10 percent discount to get another. If someone’s flag gets ratty, he’ll go get another one for them. If everybody had a neighbor like that, all the neighborhoods would be better places. He’s just a special kind of guy.”
Linda Monismith and her husband, Bruce, moved in across the street three years ago. She began putting her flag out daily, too.
“He took it over for me,” she said. “Everyone loves him on this street.”
And Amy Hisey, soon to become Amy Hughes, not only appreciates Sneed’s attention to the flags, but also his attention to the neighborhood.
“He lets us know what’s going on,” she said. Sneed also shows the children on the block how to care for the flags.
“He rolls ’em up nice and neat,” Hisey said. “He doesn’t ever let them touch the ground.”
Their friendship is enough for Sneed. Some take it a step further. One neighbor brought him a wall plate emblazoned with the words, “Land of the Free Because of the Brave.”
“I thought that was so neat,” he said. “Not ‘Home of the Brave,’ but ‘Because of the Brave.’ ”
Another neighbor gave him a paperweight: a wooden white star wearing a red, white and blue Uncle Sam’s hat. It rests on a shelf in his living room.
Not all of his neighbors buy in, though. One of the street’s younger residents declined his offer to post and retrieve a flag daily.
“He’s not anti-American,” Sneed said. “I think it’s a generational thing. People need to see the sacrifice made for them to be where they are today. I think some people take things for granted.”
Those who served, he said, “deserve all the respect in the world.” That includes his niece, Corrine Sneed, who is a first lieutenant in the Air Force and is serving in Qatar.
Attending parades or other events and seeing veterans who brought home the scars of war moves him deeply, Sneed said.
So does the sight of an American flag – 16 of them, in fact – that he places every morning and removes every night. They’re the ones so gallantly streaming along Penn Avenue every day.