A piece of history that was almost lost to time returned Sunday to the Gettysburg battlefield where it was carried into the chaos of the Wheatfield 154 years ago.
"We have completed the mission, the flag is yours," Sam Dunkle, commander of American Legion Post 516, told the crowd gathered in front of the Blair County Courthouse in Hollidaysburg, Pa., as the ceremony rededicating the battle flag carried by Company M of the 62nd Infantry Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers during the Civil War.
It was the second ceremony of the day, with the first taking place Sunday morning on the Gettysburg battlefield, at the Wheatfield, where the flag was carried by the men from Company M before its return to Hollidaysburg for the 4 p.m. rededication ceremony.
The flag's journey is remarkable having survived seeing action in practically every major battle of the Eastern theatre during the Civil War before Sgt. Jack Mufty returned it to Hollidaysburg.
The flag was bought by women in Hollidaysburg and given to Mufty in 1861 after President Abraham Lincoln's call for volunteers, and Mufty promised to return it to Hollidaysburg after the war. Scarred and tattered by bullet holes, the elements and, as legend has it, a Confederate shell, Mufty made good on his promise.
The major battles of the company were printed on the flag, and it was encased in glass. In 1905, it was presented to the borough by a fellow member of the 62nd, Michael Halloran, whose descendants, Timothy Breslin and Michael Halloran, were on hand Sunday to unveil the newly restored flag in its new case meant to protect it from further deterioration.
The flag will spend the summer on display in the Hollidaysburg Library before being moved to the high school, a cycle that will be repeated yearly, noted Hollidaysburg Area School District Superintendent Robert Gildea.
The borough turned the flag over to the school district after its 1905 dedication, and for years it was on display at the old high school, now the junior high. In 1963, when a visitor asked to see it, it was discovered in a custodial closet. Gildea said it had been removed from an office during renovations years before that, and the janitor was told to throw it away. Knowing its significance, the custodian put it in a closet for safekeeping.
The flag was then put on display again, but over time it once again found its way into a closet. In 2015, it was found again after 20 years, and an effort to have it restored by the school district, women's club, American Legion and other individuals and groups, was underway.
"Despite its age and years of neglect, the flag remained in remarkable condition," Gildea said Sunday.
Mayor John Stultz said the flag was "a priceless reminder of the sacrifices made by our forefathers," and Blair County Commissioner Bruce Erb pointed out it was fitting the ceremony took place in front of the courthouse, where the statue dedicated to the Blair County men who fought in the civil war stands.
Erb pointed out Dunkle worked tirelessly to have the flag rededicated on the battlefield of Gettysburg, a dream that was fulfilled Sunday.
Dunkle thanked everyone who donated to make the restoration a reality, adding, "This was truly a community effort, and as a community, we can truly be proud to say we are from Hollidaysburg."
Dunkle said local residents filled a bus to make the trip to Gettysburg on Sunday, with others driving on their own so that about 200 people were on hand for the battlefield ceremony, one that was part of the National Park Service official activities commemorating the anniversary of the famous battle.