Coach Mows Giant US Flag in Lawn to Honor Fallen Soldier, a Former Wrestling Student

August 17, 2020 Updated: August 17, 2020

A patriotic wrestling coach paid homage to a former student killed in Afghanistan by mowing a giant American flag into his enormous lawn in Greenwood, Indiana.

Over the Independence Day weekend this year, Rob Merchant mapped out and mowed the giant flag, including all 13 stripes and 50 stars, to the bemusement of his family. “I think they rolled their eyes, like, ‘Here is one of Dad’s projects,’” Merchant told WTHR. “He’s got the barn projects, he’s got yard projects, and now he’s doing something funny with the grass.”

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Rob Merchant (Courtesy of Rob Merchant)

Merchant’s lawn display was more than mere whimsy, however; the father wanted to pay tribute to former middle school wrestling student James “Jimmy” Waters, who lost his life while serving overseas in the U.S. Army.

“I had a wrestler that was in middle school that wrestled for me and was an awesome kid, an inspiration to our team,” Merchant recalled, “and then in 2011 he was in the military and was killed in Afghanistan.”

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U.S. Army Specialist Jimmy Waters, who lost his life in Afghanistan (Courtesy of James A. Waters Memorial Foundation)

Waters joined the Army immediately after graduating Whiteland Community High School, where he had wrestled under Merchant’s tutelage.

“[I]t’s been nine years,” the coach reflected. “He was a kid. He was a baby. To see the inspiration that he had … that’s a real story.”

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(Courtesy of Rob Merchant)

In honoring Waters’s memory, Merchant was keen to get his huge rendering of the American flag, seen best from an aerial perspective, exactly right. Using a riding lawnmower, Merchant drafted the shape of the flag on the ground before spray painting all 50 stars in bright white.

The hardest part was mowing the stars, he said.

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(Courtesy of Rob Merchant)

But Merchant wanted to pay homage to another fallen hero—or heroes—while honoring his former student. Next to where the flag’s pole would have been, Merchant outlined a Twin Tower motif, and underneath the flag, he mowed the “Ichthys,” or early Christian fish symbol.

He used a drone to capture areal footage of the completed project, which shows the impressive scale of the undertaking. The aerial tribute, which spans the entire lawn of the Merchant family’s property, made headlines nationwide.

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(Courtesy of Rob Merchant)

Merchant also posted photos of his handiwork on his Facebook page, captioned, “Yard Stripes. Never Forget!” and comments from supporters came in thick and fast, many commending Merchant for his efforts and instinct to remember those who died for their country.

“The flag means be better,” Merchant reflected, speaking to WTHR. “Be better today than you were yesterday.

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(Courtesy of Rob Merchant)

“I want to be a better husband. I want to be a better dad. I want to be a better neighbor, I want to be a better friend,” he added. “I want to be better tomorrow than I was today.”

Elsewhere, in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, local residents the Clifford family also acknowledged the Fourth of July by rendering the American flag on their front lawn, this time in bold red, white, and blue paint.

Posted by Rob Merchant on Sunday, May 24, 2020

The feat necessitated “a little bit of freehand, a little bit of liquid courage, and a lot of paint,” Peter Clifford told ABC 7 Chicago. Peter’s wife, Megan, assisted in the gargantuan effort after a spell of rain washed away the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence on the family’s driveway, written in chalk.

“I was out here early this morning rewriting it all,” she said.

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