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Shaler man's effort restores glory to flag display at Millvale post office

| Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015, 8:43 p.m.
Sam DiGiacomo of Shaler stands in front of a new American flag above the Post Office in Millvale on Tuesday. The Post Office was flying a ragged flag until DiGiacomo contacted U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle’s office to get a new one.
Andrew Russell | Trib Total Media
Sam DiGiacomo of Shaler stands in front of a new American flag above the Post Office in Millvale on Tuesday. The Post Office was flying a ragged flag until DiGiacomo contacted U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle’s office to get a new one.

The problem with people these days, Sam DiGiacomo says, is that nobody looks up.

But Sam doesn't own a mobile device, so when he was walking past the Millvale post office a couple of months ago, he did what others don't: He looked up.

And what Sam saw, he could not abide.

“That flag was all ratty and frayed,” Sam says at his dining room table, his Army medals and images of the American flag hanging on the walls. “Well, I went inside and said, ‘Hey! Have you looked at your flag out there?' ”

He spoke up because that's another problem with people these days: Nobody seems to care. They neglect their yards, their homes, their personal appearance. If we'd all take a little pride, Sam says, well then maybe we'd get somewhere.

Sam — a tanned, smiling man who lives in a tidy house on a Shaler hillside overlooking Millvale — refused to neglect that flag. Or any other American flag. He once railed against a dirty, tattered flag in Bloomfield until officials replaced it. And during a 30-year career with the Department of Defense, he lived all over the world. At each stop, he never hesitated to call out businesses and municipalities that didn't treat their flags with respect.

Years ago in northern California, Sam noticed the disgraceful condition of a flag hanging over Sonoma City Hall and took his complaints to the top. The mayor gave Sam his blessing to make some calls. A couple months later, Sonoma received an American flag that once flew over the Capitol in Washington.

“I guess that's sort of my legacy,” Sam says with a grin.

In this case, he took note when Millvale postal employees lowered the flag after his complaints.

Good, Sam thought. They heard me.

But a month passed and a new flag didn't appear. He complained again.

Staff members said they tried getting a flag from the main office on McKnight Road but hadn't heard back. So Sam looked elsewhere. He called U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle's office and talked to two assistants. He waited. Then he called back. Again and again.

“I said, look, this is your assignment,” Sam recalls. “I said, ‘When you have an assignment, you have to get it done.' ”

He shared with the assistants a story from his Army days: His commander gave him an assignment (Sam doesn't recall the details), then left for the weekend. Sam talked to everyone he could think of, short of the general, and nobody could help him. When his commander returned, Sam explained himself.

“So he said, ‘Well, did you ask the general?' and I said, ‘No, I didn't think I had the authority,'” Sam recalls. “And the commander said, ‘Listen up — when you have an assignment, you have to ask until you get a yes. If you don't get a yes, ask someone else. Keep asking until you get a yes.' ”

A few days after relaying that story, Sam's phone rang.

It was Doyle's office. Meet us at the post office at noon, the assistant said. We have your flag.

“Sometimes it takes ordinary citizens to get things done,” Sam says, standing in front of the Millvale post office as a clean American flag whipped in the wind. “You have to be persistent. You have to keep going until you get a yes.”

It's that easy, Sam explains.

And it starts with simply looking up.

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