With thousands of flags, honoring fallen heroes he's never met

(CBS News) MOUNT STERLING, Ky. - Two American service members were killed Friday by enemy rockets in Afghanistan. Here at home, it is all too easy to forget about the war -- and the sacrifice of Americans in uniform and their families.

But there is a man determined to make sure our fallen heroes get the final salute they deserve. CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman met him, "On the Road."

If you only knew Private First Class Dustin Gross, or his family -- or even if you just grew up in this same small Kentucky town -- you'd be here too.

But what if you didn't know Dustin at all? What if all you knew about him was that he was an Army soldier killed in Afghanistan last week by a roadside bomb? How far out of your way would you go to honor his loss?

How about 602 miles?

Larry Eckhardt drove 11 hours, with a trailer in tow.

"All they know is that I'm coming to try and help them pay respect to one of their own," Eckhardt said.

Eckhardt is a property manager from Little York, Ill. who lives by two mottoes: Nothing is more important than honoring a fallen soldier; and there's no such thing as too many flags.

Larry Eckhardt's Facebook page

That's why for the last six years he's been going to every funeral he can. He typically arrives the night before, recruits local volunteers and then -- rain or shine -- lines the processional route with Stars and Stripes forever.

"Just grab some flags and get going," Eckhardt tells a group of those volunteers.

For Gross' funeral, the flags lined eight miles of procession route -- with 2,200 flags.

Pfc. Gross' parents, Angie Brown and Stacey Dean Gross, are grateful.

"That's somebody who's got a heart right there," Brown said. "I don't think we could thank him enough. I really don't."

It really is an incredible gift -- paid for through donations and a lot of his own money.

If you'd like to donate to Eckhardt's efforts, please mail him: 323 South Broadway Street, Apt. 1S, Little York, IL 61453

Last year, Eckhardt went into debt doing this, but he refuses to stop or even scale back on the flags-- partly, he says, because of spectacular sight it creates, but even more because of the stage it sets.

"This gives the town a rallying point, you might say," Eckhardt said. "A way of coming out and saying 'thanks.'"

Turns out, when you line a country road like a hero's coming, he gets treated like one. People drop whatever they're doing. Flags beget flags. And for eight miles, one family's loss is shouldered by an entire community.

This was Larry's 86th funeral. And although he hopes more than anything that it's his last, you can bet that if and when the time comes, he will be there to honor that soldier he never met -- for that sacrifice he can't ignore.

To contact On the Road, or to send us a story idea, e-mail us.

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