'I fell in love with it': Army veteran makes it his mission to share Braille American flags
By GORDON JACKSON | The Brunswick News, Ga. | Published: November 25, 2019
BRUNSWICK, Ga. (Tribune News Service) — Exposure to agent orange robbed Walt Peters of his vision, but the gift of an American flag in 2008 has given him a new purpose in life.
Peters, of Kingsland, Ga., is a 20-year Army veteran who served three tours of duty in Vietnam as part of a helicopter recovery team. After he lost his vision, he was given an American flag with the Pledge of Allegiance written in Braille in Savannah in appreciation for his service.
The tactile experience of touching the flag he could once see with his eyes was an emotional experience, he said.
“They gave me this thing and I fell in love with it,” he said.
The upper left corner of the flag has fifty raised stars arranged in alternating clusters of five and six. The embossing on the stripes indicates the color of each stripe and the Pledge of Allegiance written in Braille.
The design is also a tactile aid to teach blind students how the American flag looks.
The flag’s creator, Randolph Cabral, of the Kansas Braille Transcription Institute, said he created the flag in memory of his father, a blind World War II veteran.
“He always displayed the flag during the holidays,” Cabral said.
He got the idea to create the flag after he heard about a group of students, one of whom was blind, who were given American flag bookmarks. The blind girl gave the bookmark back, saying it was of no value to her.
It gave him the idea to make the first the Braille flag with the pledge, which he gave as a gift to his mother in memory of his late father. She showed it to some friends and it didn’t take long for the flag to attract media attention and overwhelm Cabral with orders.
“Nobody had ever made one,” he said. “I didn’t expect the response.”
The flag, approved by Congress as an official American flag, is made in paper and bronze versions. A Braille flag is at Arlington National Cemetery, national cemeteries in Florida and VA hospitals throughout the Southeast. The flags are also given to different veterans groups and individual veterans.
Cabral met Peters after seeing him on a national CCN broadcast handing out American flags to soldiers returning from a tour of duty in the Middle East.
“Here he was blind handing out cloth flags on little sticks,” Cabral said. “He could no longer see the flag himself.”
After he gave Peters his first Braille flag more than a decade ago, Cabral said he realized the flag initiative needed a voice and that Peters was the man for the job.
They began a collaborative effort to distribute the flag. Last year, more than 100 brass Braille flags and 12,000 paper Braille flags were distributed across the nation and beyond. Cabral said the queen of England has one of the Braille flags.
When Peters presents a flag, he dresses in the dress Army uniform he wore during active duty. Every ceremony, regardless of if it’s for one individual or a public site, is conducted with a color guard and all the pomp and circumstance possible.
“It’s important to do this in a fashionable manner,” he said. “It’s an honor to do it anywhere we do it.”
Peters said it took a year for him to learn to read Braille after his vision deteriorated to the point where he was legally blind, so he understands the emotions shown by blind veterans who touch a paper or metal version of the flag for the first time.
“Most of the time they’re overwhelmed,” he said. “It’s the first chance for a lot of blind veterans to experience something like this. They’re very inspired.”
Cabral said he is “amazed” at the number of lives Peters has touched since he got involved with the project. And it’s likely to get busier in the near future.
“I don’t think there’s anything he can’t do,” he said. “He was God sent. Nobody can do it with any more sincerity and passion than Walt does.”
The American Braille Flag Project was designated a 501c3 non-profit about a month ago, Peters said. Organizers are trying to be methodical about setting up a website to market the flags nationwide and to solicit funds to enable more flags to be donated to different veterans organizations.
“We’re getting set up correctly,” he said.
Peters, 75, said his goal before he dies is to present brass Braille flags to the estimated 150 VA hospitals across the nation that currently don’t have one.
“I’m still serving,” he said. “I believe in our country. I believe in our flag.”