ISHPEMING — Every Fourth of July, if you find yourself driving on US–41 in Ishpeming, you’ll see him without fail.

“I came from North Lake with my American Flag. I was heading into Ishpeming and Al Quaal, and I sat on the trestle to smoke a cigarette.”

21 years later, Michael Whalen, also known as the “Flag Man,” sits on that same trestle. Every morning on the fourth, he sets up a number of flags along the guardrail, and holds his special flag.

“This is my way of honoring the servicemen and women past and present who have gone out there, and who do go out there, and put their lives on the line every single day so people like me can go out every day and do this,” he said.

In addition to his flags, mike sports a denim suit, plastered with our symbol of freedom, both old and new. How he’s wearing long sleeves in the heat of the summer is beyond me.

“It’s going to be hotter than hell, but I’m going to be out here most of the day,” he said with a chuckle. “By the time I’m done here, I’d say 50,000 cars will have gone by.”

By most of the day, he means all day. And by the time he packs up for the night, he’ll have received the support of thousands. The fourth of July on a small highway in Ishpeming sounds more like rush hour in New York. It’s a time that Mike hopes never has to end.

“I hope that this would all carry over after today. And I hope that the spirit of freedom would stay alive and keep sparking even days past independence day.”

Even if people driving by forget about the Flag Man – but how could they – he hopes that his message sticks with them.

“We’re all Americans,” he said, “and we should all enjoy our sense of liberty and unity. Unity is the key.”

And that’s what Mike is pushing for. He says that if he can unify the locals for even one day, he’s done his job.