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Local Catholic demonstrates love of God, country

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June 28, 2012

By Patricia McGeever
John Nieman’s love of God, flag and country is evident. He regularly attends Mass at Queen of Peace Parish in Millville. He served in the U.S. Air Force as an aircraft mechanic from 1960-65.

John Nieman poses with his collection of flags. (Courtesy Photos)

And, he proudly displays the Stars and Stripes — from many eras. Nieman has a collection of American flags. He and his late wife, Marilyn, picked up the first flag at an antique show in Tennessee.


“We’d go down every year, in January or February for something to do. My wife liked antiques. That’s what got us started, I guess,” Nieman said. “We saw a couple and just started to add on to it.”


Before he knew it, he had a collection. He’s up to 15 now. These are not ordinary flags. They are pieces of history. The first flag Nieman bought was made after California became a state. It has 31 stars and dates back to 1851-58. This flag was believed to have been carried by Gilbert Bates, a Union soldier who peacefully marched across the South en route to Washington following the Civil War.


“Past California or the Civil War it gets kind of expensive,” Nieman said. “They never saved many of them.”


“Even in the museums there’s only a few of the real early ones and they’re not in very good shape.Each time a new state entered the Union, another star was added to the canton.


“Some are sewn. Some are printed. That changes the value of it,” according to Nieman.


He is most proud of his “Centennial” flag. It dates back to 1876 and was made to commemorate the nation’s 100th birthday. It was a rare find as not many of these were made.


His other flags are from the time periods when Nevada, Nebraska, Colorado, The Dakotas, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska and Hawaii all became states.


Until 1912, when Cincinnati native William Howard Taft, the President of the United States, issued an executive order establishing the proportions of the flag’s field and canton, there were many red, white and blue variations of the American flag. The 48-star version of the flag was the official flag for 47 years.


An executive order by President Dwight D. Eisenhower superseded that order and made the current 50-star flag as the official U.S. flag. The new flag acknowledged both Alaska and Hawaii as new states. It became official on July 4, 1960.


The biggest flag hanging on Nieman’s wall was draped over the casket of a World War II soldier when he was brought home. The soldier’s widow gave it to Nieman.


His most recent acquisition flew over Afghanistan at Camp Leatherneck. He received it earlier this year from a customer at his Christmas tree farm.


Nieman is the owner of John Nieman Nursery in Ross, a landscaping company and Christmas tree farm. He grows five varieties of fir trees. Each holiday season he turns his barn into the North Pole where customers can purchase fresh arrangements and gifts along with their fresh tree. Visitors can also see his display of antique flags, antique tractors and Model “A” cars.


Since his wife passed away three years ago, Nieman hasn’t gone in search of any new flags. But, he says, if he comes across one he likes there’s room on the wall for number sixteen.

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