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Sugar Grove woman returns flag,  inspires kindness in memory of vets

Mary Bridget Prince-Owens returns missing flag ArmYoung.| submitted photo

Mary Bridget Prince-Owens returns a missing flag to Armand Young.| submitted photo

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Updated: December 5, 2013 6:13AM

When Mary Bridget Prince-Owens opened the door to the man standing before her last week, she admits to being taken aback.

He introduced himself as Armand Young and said he was walking across America to promote kindness in memory of America’s fallen soldiers and victims of 9/11. In his hand was a tall pole containing hundreds of red, white and blue flags about 3 to 4 feet in diameter.

Would she like to sign one, he asked politely, with a promise she would perform one act of kindness in the next 24 hours?

Prince-Owens manages the Sugar Grove Motel right off Route 30, which is part of Young’s own route that has taken him from San Diego to Ground Zero in New York City and now back on the road to California again.

Prince-Owens listened to his fascinating and inspiring story, and gladly became one of more than 500,000 signatures he’s gathered in this quest. Her husband Carlin signed a flag, too, and Young went on his way.

As Prince-Owens was leaving the motel to get to her second job, she looked down and knew exactly what her next act of human kindness would be.

Return one of the flags Young had dropped at the end of her driveway.

Luckily, the 49-year-old man — who is on Facebook and YouTube and who has garnered all sorts of publicity on his mission — was still in the area. Last week’s rain curtailed Young’s trek for a few days, and he was staying at the fire station in Sandwich on Friday, when she was able to catch up with him and return the wayward flag.

It’s no surprise that Young failed to notice it was missing from the pole he’s been toting for almost 7,500 miles. He told me he’s got 419 flags attached, each carrying thousands of names accumulated on this mission.

Young says he’s more than halfway to his goal of a million signatures, including 60 percent of family members of 9/11 victims, and more than 500 celebrity names.

This journey has not been without major hitches. It actually begin in April 2007, Young said, but has been chopped up by tragedy. That included the death of his mother that same year and his sister’s sudden death in a car accident in 2011, not long after he was in New York at Ground Zero for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack.

But Young doesn’t plan to stop. If all goes well and he continues to make 10 miles a day, he estimates he’ll be back in California in 11 months.

After that, he’s putting the flags away and returning to his wife and home in West Virginia, where “I can wake up in my own bed and be a normal person.”

The journey has been tough at times, he told me, but the supporters and stories he’s gathered along the way have more than made up for the rough spots.

“I can’t even begin to tell you the lives that have been changed,” he said. “It’s been amazing.”

For her part, Prince-Owens was just glad she could get the flag back to him before he made it too far west.

A man is walking across the country to promote kindness. “The least I can do,” she said, “is return his lost flag.”

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