SEABROOK – Amateur craftsman Steve Rita has said he’s living the American Dream and wants to show his gratitude to the veterans who have served this country he is proud to call home.
In some ways, Rita observes Veterans Day every month. He hand carves personalized wooden American flags and gives them to a veteran each month to thank him for serving in the military. He estimates that he gave about two dozen flags to veterans, and in total he made 747 flags and other hand-carved wooden crafts as part of his side business.
“Any veteran who asks me for a flag, I will make one,” said Rita, who is not a veteran himself. “First I wanted to give them to as many World War II veterans as possible. Then I did it for Vietnam veterans and now I’m speaking to more war on terror veterans.
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Rita said he chose woodworking as a hobby for the COVID-19 pandemic when he was not working as a full-time truck driver or as a referee for mixed martial arts fights.
He said he started watching woodworking tutorials on YouTube. He then bought a CNC X-Carve machine, which automatically creates the designs he draws on a computer program called Easel and got to work.
“When COVID happened it pretty much killed (mixed martial arts) fights for a year,” Rita said. “The woodworking industry really grew in March. “
Rita said he enjoys personalizing each flag to best honor the veteran who receives it. Some of his designs include American flags with the Marine Corps badge and slogan. He also made some for other branches of the military, as well as fun wooden plaques, like the one celebrating the return of Netflix’s “Cobra Kai” series.
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“They’re all different which is what makes it fun,” Rita said. “Some veterans like to have their dates of service, no matter what line of service they were in. It started out as a hobby, now it’s completely taken up in my basement.”
Rita belongs to a flag-making group on Facebook and this is where he first got the inspiration to make flags for veterans.
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Since Rita began carving flags, he said some of his recipients included a donation of six flags to Holyoke Soldiers’ Home in Massachusetts – one for each branch of the military. He also partnered with his fellow flag-makers online and donated 13 flags to the families of 13 Marines killed at Kabul airport in the last days of the US occupation of Afghanistan in August.
“I like to do anything to support the veterans because they don’t get a lot of the support they deserve, so this is my way of showing my appreciation,” said Rita. “I like to do this to hear their stories and see their reactions when they receive their flag. They say they’re not going to cry when they get it, but they still cry.
Most recently, one of Rita’s flags was presented at the Dan Healy Memorial 5K in Exeter on Sunday. Healy, a Navy SEAL, was killed in action during Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan in 2005. Healy’s helicopter was dispatched to rescue a SEAL reconnaissance team, and the story of the mission was captured in the book and the movie titled “Lone Survivor”.
Healy’s mother, Natalie, the race organizer, said she was touched to receive one of Rita’s flags in memory of her son. She said the race had over 300 runners and raised thousands of dollars for the Dan Healy Foundation, which supports Seacoast veterans, area single mothers and grants scholarships to local students pursuing a school. of commerce or a career in the military.
“Steve’s flag was so wonderful, it was kind of him to donate it to us,” said Natalie Healy. “I first met Steve at an auto show in Newington last spring, and I think it’s a special way to thank a veteran.
Rita said that for veterans receiving flags, they often prefer to display her sculpture in their home rather than a static or folded American flag in a holster. He said that these are not just flags, but “works of art”.
“They are very patriotic, and I found there was a real demand for them,” said Rita. “Some veterans do not hoist the flag on a pole outside their house, but if they have a wooden flag they are more likely to display it in their house.”
Rita posts her work on her Instagram account @Steves_Custom_Flags and videos of her work on her TikTok account @ SteveRita6. He invites anyone interested in purchasing his work, or veterans looking for a flag of their own, to send him a direct message on the platforms.
Rita said he also makes other crafts, such as custom wooden cornhole boards, gun cases, bottle openers and other types of commemorative signs. His work is on display in Locally Handmade stores in Hampton and Portsmouth, and as of this weekend, also on sale in Haverhill, in the New to You Artisan Center in Massachusetts. He will also be selling his work at the Castleberry Festival at the Topsfield Fairgrounds in Topsfield, Massachusetts this weekend.