For 40 years, he's raised a flag on Flower Street

World War II veteran Thomas G. Riker has a morning routine, a short ceremony of patriotic clockwork.

He walks the front yard of his Flower Street home in Eastside Costa Mesa and hoists the American flag. Then the 95-year-old salutes and quietly recites the beginning of the Boy Scout oath: "On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country."

Later in the afternoon, he takes the flag down in proper form and folding.

He's been honoring Old Glory this way for about 40 years, almost every day unless there's inclement weather. It hasn't gone without notice.

"When I'm putting it up, they either wave or salute or something," Riker said with a smile. "Even the fella that cleans the road, the road sweeper, on a Wednesday when he goes by and I'm putting it up, he waves."

Neighbors admire his dedication as well.

"The respect that he shows for the flag, it's great to see," said Libby Doughty, who lives across the street. "It's inspiring to see somebody that shows so much respect for the flag and his country."

When her 9-year-old son sees the flag raising, "it makes his day," she added.

"It's a class act," Doughty continued. "Total class act."

Joann Launder, a Flower Street resident of 20 years, said Riker exemplifies the wonderful living on Flower and the Eastside.

"To see this gentleman out there every single day, as old as he is, I just think that's so sweet," she said.

Riker is on his second flagpole. It's sturdier than the previous one, which mischievous kids ruined a while ago.

He said he only buys the highest-quality flags from the American Legion. He goes through one a year.

Riker's war was different than many. Because he joined the Army Air Corps in 1942 at age 24, he was the "old man" of an outfit that had mostly 18- and 17-year-olds. Six months into his service, though, he got spinal meningitis and was classified as a noncombatant.

Despite being offered a discharge, he refused to accept it.

"What's the point? I'd go home and they'd induct me again," he said. "That's the way it was: If you were breathing, in you went ... you're out of circulation for four years. Didn't matter what you did. Just do something."

He spent most of his time at what was then known as Kirtland Field in Albuquerque, N.M., mostly doing base inspection work. He left the service as a private first class.

"When you're stateside, you didn't get any rank elevation," Riker said. "They gave it to the fellas who went overseas, and that was all right with me."

Riker was born in New Jersey and spent most of his youth on Long Island. He's a retired small businessman who repaired boats for some 50 years and created a name for himself down in Newport Harbor.

He kept at it until age 80, and 15 years later, he still keeps a lot of parts and tools from his business, Tom Riker Marine, at his home.

The nuts, bolts and other tidbits — many of which are stored within a lifetime's worth of metal coffee canisters — are organized in his garage.

He keeps mementos of his life in his home office, among them: a Smith Corona typewriter, and photos of Gen. George S. Patton, various boats and President Reagan.

"He was a good man, one of the few good men we've ever had in the White House," Riker said of the Gipper. "There's been a lot of bad ones."

Riker, a lifetime conservative, flew his flag upside down for a short time after President Obama was elected. He doesn't remember it causing any controversy.

Also in his office are certificates, including his 50-year membership recognition with the U.S. Power Squadron, which promotes boating education and safety. Riker has long been involved with the Boy Scouts, the Sea Scouts and the American Legion Newport Harbor Post 291, which he's been a member of for 66 years.

An October 2011 issue of the post's newsletter, SeaBreeze, depicts Riker, the post's oldest member, alongside the youngest member during a birthday celebration for the Air Force.

A recent doctor visit found the 95-year-old is in great health.

"'You are phenomenal.' Phenomenal is the word he used," Riker said with a hearty laugh. "I thought that was funny."

When asked about his advice to the younger generations, he offered the following: "Stop drinking and smoking. And keep working. You can't do anything by not working, by sleeping all the time. I sleep enough, but I'm probably entitled to it by now."

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