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A flag is draped from atop a Pella Fire Department truck Monday in Knoxville.

Even the normal was abnormal Monday.

Didn’t forget my phone. Did forget my camera. Tried not to let that bother me.

As I drove back home to get it, something else was missing — a few hundred golf carts and twice that many slow-moving campers. The bliss of life after Nationals went straight to my foot, and I was lucky that one of Knoxville’s finest wasn’t camped out on the VA campus. Their red and blue flashing lights would have been a very normal sight for me.

Instead I was slowed down by the red, white and blue of our nation’s flag hanging calmly over Pleasant Street, mounted on the raised ladder of a fire truck.

This was not a normal day. The funeral procession of a young firefighter would pass by in a bit. His life had ended all too soon. His chief shared his grief with me in a long conversation a week earlier, echoing comments from within the firehouse and around the community.

This also was not a normal fire truck, at least for this part of the county. It came from Pella, and I felt compelled to find out more. In the heat at high noon, a young firefighter explained that it all boils down to doing the right thing.

“A few of us got together and just volunteered our time to just show some respect during his final travel,” firefighter T.J. Markley said.

The Pella crew knows Knoxville’s firefighters are hurting, he said.

“It’s extremely important we just all stand together,” Markley said. “It’s really a deep brotherhood between firefighters.”

It doesn’t matter where you’re from, or whether you’re full-time or volunteer, he said.

“Everyone’s signed their name on the line for the greater good of someone else,” he said, “no matter what community, no matter the person.”

The day’s brightness belied its dim undertones and the scene that soon would roll down Pleasant Street. But atop the truck and around its wheels, signs of hope could be found. I told Markley about my godson, a young chief in suburban St. Louis, and my admiration for how firefighters pull together in tough times.

It’s striking to see how many different towns’ crews show up for fires around the county, and it was good to see a neighbor’s name on that truck Monday. It’s an example of what our communities and people should do, in bad times or good.

“They’re there for us when we need them and we’re there for them when they need us,” Markley said of his comrades from Knoxville.

“That’s what it’s all about.”

Pat Finan is the editor of the Knoxville Journal-Express and Pella Chronicle. He can be reached at 641-295-0624 or via email at editor@journalexpress.net or editor@pellachronicle.com

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