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'Flag Mama' who greeted troops at Riverside air base dies at 63

When the U.S. sent troops to Afghanistan in 2001, and then Iraq in 2003, Laura Froehlich was determined that they would not endure the public indifference experienced by troops who served in Vietnam, like her father.

"I swore that in my corner of the world, where I have some control, they would never feel that again, and they don't," Froehlich told The Times one chilly night in 2009 as she waited for a flight of Marines to return to March Air Reserve Base from Iraq.

Froehlich organized volunteers to provide handshakes and hugs at the Riverside-area base for troops departing or returning from the war zones. She organized Hangar 385, decorated with flags, posters, large-screen televisions, books, a pool table and plenty of snacks for the troops.

During the height of the U.S. mobilization, she parked a mobile home on base so she could be on call whenever a plane was ready to leave. For 10 years, regardless of the hour, Froehlich was at the air base, saying goodbye or welcome home.

"The hardest part is saying goodbye," Froehlich told The Times. "You want them all to return, but you know that sometimes they don't."

Froehlich died Wednesday at age 63.  An Air Force veteran, she was  known in nearby Moreno Valley as the "Flag Mama" who organized the Fourth of July parades

One of her last thoughts was of the troops. When she returned from a family vacation recently, she said she was glad to have missed only one flight of troops, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

"Her goal was to provide that sense of home, to say, 'We love you. We care for you,'" an Air Force master sergeant told the newspaper.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Laura Froehlich greets Marines returning from Iraq in 2009. Credit: Los Angeles Times

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