Flag with storied past making history after DA's murder




Posted on April 1, 2013 at 10:37 PM

Updated Tuesday, Apr 2 at 9:58 AM

A flag that's traveled many miles flying over the funerals of thousands of law enforcement officers across the country is back in North Texas.

It's the first time the U.S. Honor Flag is being used to honor someone who has actually held it.

Three DPS troopers stood at attention, saluting as a locked case was removed from a safe inside a pickup truck. Then those troopers marched inside with pride and precision.

Locked inside the case was a precious American flag.

"It's the first time in thousands of funerals I've participated in that I've had someone so close, someone who's actually touched and held this flag, that it's going to honor that same individual," said Chris Heisler, founder of The Honor Network.

Heisler coordinates the flag's appearances at memorials nationwide. The flag has traveled on the space shuttle and covered an estimated six million miles, but it's never been to the funeral of someone who has personally held it.

Until now.

"It's humbling," Heisler said.

Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland asked that the flag come to Kaufman after his assistant prosecutor, Mark Hasse, was murdered in January. Heisler and McLelland became friends, talking often and sharing stories.

McLelland was a major in the U.S. Army; Heisler was a captain.

On Saturday, McLelland and his wife Cynthia were found murdered at their home in Forney.

Heisler was asked by the McLelland family to help coordinate funeral arrangements and to act as a sort of family spokesman. He spoke of a deep love between Mike and his wife Cynthia.

"The family wanted us to share that this love is such a unique bond that Cynthia, upon cremation, will rest with her husband in the same casket," he said.

The flag will remain with McLelland's body until he and Cynthia are buried in his hometown of Wortham on Friday.

Monday night, a small group prayed outside the Kaufman County Courthouse where Mike worked each day, and across the street from the quilting shop where Cynthia taught classes.

"Mike was like a hero, the personification of a mighty warrior," said Martha Holden of Terrell, who came to pray. "It makes us very unsure of our own safety."

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com