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Remembering, honoring fallen servicemembers

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Claire Behney
  • 193rd Special Operations Wing
On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress passed an act establishing an official flag for the new nation. Since then the American flag has served as the icon of our nation's freedom and it's colors, each symbolic, wave strong every Memorial Day along the entrance drive to the Indiantown Gap National Cemetery, Annville, Pa. The color red symbolizes hardiness and valor; the white, purity and innocence; and the blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice - the kind of vigilance, valor, and commitment displayed by the more than 5,000 servicemembers killed in action during the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Twice a year, Memorial Day and Veterans Day, The National Sojourners, Harrisburg Chapter 76 sets out their traditional ordered rows of small American flags, each flag they place represents a single servicemember killed in action during the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"It gives me a great feeling to take part in doing something for the families of the men and women who lost their lives; to honor those servicemembers' dedication and sacrifice," said Vaughn Schwalm, president , National Sojourners, Harrisburg Chapter 76.

The National Sojourners, Harrisburg Chapter 76 works in conjunction with the Navy Club, Lancaster County Ship 166 to create this flag memorial. The week-long process begins with gridding out the location of each flag along the entrance drive to the cemetery. Members and volunteers carefully measure out the exact location for each flag, creating straight and even columns and rows. After about a day and a half of gridding, holes for the flags are punched into the ground and the placing of the flags begins, all of which takes approximately three days to complete.

"When you're actually putting a flag in the ground with your hand and you realize that flag represents the history of a person, their life from being born up until they die and everyone they've connected with through that life, it's heart wrenching when you get involved in it," said Schwalm.

The Sojourners initially began this display on the lawn of the Zembo Shine, Harrisburg, Pa., in 2004 after the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 Schwalm said.

"When we started it was only about 800 flags and unfortunately it has grown since we now include those killed in action in both Iraq and Afghanistan," said Larry Rutt, Chapter 76 member and former president.

Master Sgt. Scott Fritz, 193rd Special Operations Wing fuel cell supervisor and a ten-year-member of Chapter 76 said the memorial is all about paying tribute to those that have fallen while serving and honoring those touched by the servicemembers.

"Everybody in some way, shape or form has been affiliated with the military, even if it's just a family friend," said Fritz. "They are able to look at the 5,000 plus flags in the memorial and say 'they're doing that for me' and that's what we're hoping and I'm sure we do that."

To Schwalm, remembering the significance of what each flag of the memorial represents is essential.

"When you come out you can walk through the flags and just look at them and think 'oh they look really beautiful', but when you walk through them and walk by every single flag you need to think of each of them as a person and the history of that person," Schwalm said.

And it's that kind of remembrance that Rutt suggests should consume us all on this Memorial Day and every day in honor of those fallen and those yet to come home.

"The reason to keep doing this memorial is because we can never forget what the men and women of our brave armed forces have done for us," said Rutt. "It's to inspire pride in what our military does and if we can do that in a spectacular manor such as this then we will continue to do so for as long as we can."