Remembering COVID-19 victims one flag at a time in downtown Fargo
"We have to do something before it's too late."
FARGO — Halfway through planting flags outside the Fargo Civic Center, Carl Young paused to inspect the nearby Ten Commandments statue.
“Ironic. Thou shalt not kill,” Young said, pointing to the commandment. “We’re not directly killing anyone, but we’re not helping by not wearing masks. I don’t know if that’s the definition of killing or not, but I think our government should do more.”
Young traveled from Bismarck to plant North Dakota flags in the lawn by the Fargo Civic Center on Thursday, Nov. 12. He’s planned for one flag for each North Dakotan who has died from COVID-19 — 697 so far — but this time he could only plant 298. Two flags broke, and he’s waiting on 400 more expected to arrive soon.
At $2 per flag, the memorial that will stand for at least 10 days will cost him about $1,400, which he’s raised through donations to the North Dakota COVID Memorial Project .
Young suffers from a preexisting condition, and he knows that if he tests positive one day, he most likely won’t survive. He first began planting flags — 461 — at the state Capitol building in Bismarck after his mother died in early October from COVID-19 while at the Good Samaritan Society nursing home in Bottineau.
He couldn’t see her face-to-face at the end, but remembers some of his last words to her.
“I got to talk to her on the phone, and I know she understood. The last thing I told her was that I was proud to be her son,” Young said. “And I think she is looking down at us and she is proud.”
Before the holiday season begins, Young plans to travel to Minot to create a similar memorial there, and then hopes to go to Washington, D.C., next fall. At the current rate people are dying in North Dakota, Young fears that by Christmas the state will see more than 1,200 deaths.
“This originally started because I lost my mom,” Young said. “People have got to take it on themselves to help the virus die. We got to be better than this. We all can help other people live just by wearing a mask.”
Young, a Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for the North Dakota House of Representatives in Bismarck's District 32 this year, hopes to send a visual message to all elected leaders and the general public that it’s not too late to start saving lives.
“We’re losing our humanity because we’re being selfish. We’re not North Dakota nice, not like we used to,” Young said. “We have to do something before it’s too late.”
Young said a statewide mask mandate and pausing parts of the economy would help slow the rampant spread of the coronavirus throughout the state. He believes his mother, who was 70 when she died, could have lived much longer if she hadn’t contracted COVID-19.
“Look me in the eye and tell me my mom is worth this,” Young said. “ND Smart Restart is not working and the numbers show that it’s not working. I don’t think we need more government, but when the people won’t protect themselves, then somebody needs to do it.
“We need a mandate that has teeth.”
When Young finished, he stood in the middle of the memorial and gazed over the expanse of flapping blue flags. He took a minute to bow his head in prayer. The visual memorial took him nearly four hours to complete.
“It’s just heartbreaking, and it’s powerful. When the wind is blowing it is a sight to see,” Young said. “This is my honor to do this.”