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FACES AND PLACES: MIKE McNAMARA: Maj. Mike McNamara's pride runs red, white and blue

Every day is a flag day for Maj. Mike McNamara. McNamara opens his morning talk show on KNOX-AM radio with a recording of the Pledge of Allegiance and the strains of the National Anthem or God Bless America. Today, officially designated in 1877 a...

Mike McNamara
Mike McNamara has taught his daughter Colleen and his other children respect for the flag. This flag flew in Fallujah, Iraq, where McNamara served. Jackie Lorentz, Special Features staff photographer

Every day is a flag day for Maj. Mike McNamara.

McNamara opens his morning talk show on KNOX-AM radio with a recording of the Pledge of Allegiance and the strains of the National Anthem or God Bless America.

Today, officially designated in 1877 as Flag Day, Old Glory, as usual, will hang from the pole on the garage of McNamara's home in northwest Grand Forks.

"Treating the flag honorably is important," said McNamara, operations manager at KNOX radio. He openly is proud of his patriotism, which he started to develop at a young age. His grandfather was a World War I veteran and his father served in the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict.

Hearing his father, John McNamara, and his friends' fathers talk about their experiences in the service gave McNamara respect for the flag and pride in honoring it.

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"In grammar school, the eighth graders had to put the flag up and that was a big deal the day I got to put the flag up. I was very proud," McNamara said.

Marine

In 1983, two years after graduating with an economics degree from a junior college in Sacramento, Calif., McNamara decided to follow in the footsteps of the veterans he admired. He was picking up tax forms at a mall in Los Angeles when a Marine jokingly asked him if he wanted to join.

"I was in my wool suit with my silk tie on and my loafers and he said, 'Would you be interested in joining the Marine Corps?' as I walked by."

McNamara was.

"I always, for whatever reason, thought the Marines were the roughest and toughest guys. If I was going to be in the military, I wanted to be a Marine."

It was the right choice for McNamara.

"I made a great decision, one of the best decisions I made in my life," he said.

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McNamara went to officer candidates school in Quantico, Va., and during the next 12 years was stationed at Marine bases across California, Virginia and Kentucky and had oversees assignments in Japan and Korea. He also married Susan Drake, whom he had met through a former college roommate and the couple had three children; Patrick, John and Katherine while McNamara was in the Marines.

In 1995 he resigned his commission and the family moved to San Diego where McNamara started a data processing company.

North Dakota

The McNamaras moved to North Dakota in 1998 after spending time in Grand Forks for their son Patrick's hockey tournament.

Though the elder McNamaras had grown up in California, they didn't have reservations about moving to Grand Forks, Mike McNamara said. Military life had prepared them for moving to unfamiliar places and they weren't daunted by stories they heard about North Dakota's climate.

"We weren't very parochial. We knew there was good and bad in every place," McNamara said. The family moved to Grand Forks in August 1998 and he worked for the Special Olympics and Play it Again Sports before landing a job with KZLT, a former FM radio station.

McNamara got the job with the station after doing a live commercial with radio personalities Tim Hennessey and Scott Hennen.

"I was on with Scott Hennen and Tim Hennessey and I was smarter and funnier than those two guys," McNamara said with a grin.

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McNamara, who now hosts Mac Talk on KNOX from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday, enjoys talking about issues with the listeners and hearing their views.

"I've always enjoyed the discussion of complex problems with smart people..."

"You get interactive feedback so quickly."

Back in the service

Working in the radio business hasn't been McNamara's only job during the past decade. He also re-enlisted in the Marines. The late Tom Clifford, a former Marine, administered the oath of re-enlistment to McNamara in November 2003.

By this time the McNamaras had a fourth child, Colleen, who was born Aug. 26, 2003. McNamara was deployed to Iraq Feb. 12, 2004.

Saying good-bye to his family was one of the hardest things he's done.

"Especially the first time, you go you don't know what to expect... In your heart of hearts, you don't know if you will see them again. It's a terrifying feeling to hug them for what may be the last time."

McNamara spent nearly a year in Iraq, returning in December 2004. During his deployment he ran for the Grand Forks City Council seat in Ward 2 and won.

Representing his ward on the city council is another way McNamara believes he can serve his country.

"When you go to Iraq and see the selflessness you see every day and the courage you see every day as a Reservist there's a void you see in your life. The natural instinct is you want go do more and you want to serve more."

When he's not working or involved in city council affairs, McNamara enjoys coaching the Central High School baseball team, golfing, reading biographies and spending time with his family.

Family

The McNamara's and their children: John, 22; Patrick, 19; Katherine, 15 and Colleen, now 5, often help volunteer. He and Susan believe it's important to instill in the children a sense of community and a responsibility to serve others.

"They love to volunteer for Special Olympics, Relay for Life, just about anything I get invited to help with," McNamara said.

McNamara also has taught his children to honor the flag. They've learned much of it by example, observing him give a flag to the mother of a Marine who died and helping American Legion members remove flags from veteran's graves after Memorial Day.

Seeing those graves and the effects that war has had on living soldiers made an impression on his children McNamara said.

"They've shaken the left hands of soldiers who have been wounded on their right."

His tour of duty in Iraq, which involved combat, has made McNamara's own feelings about the flag even stronger.

"When you fight for it, it changes you. You realize it is an expensive piece of cloth. I think as I've gotten older it's only become more important to me and filled with important memories."

Bailey writes for special features sections. Reach her at (701) 787-6753; (800) 477-6572, ext. 753; or send e-mail to abailey@gfherald.com .

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