Hundreds of flags representing soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan solemnly set the tone Friday at Freedom Grove, as community members remembered the terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001.
The Ohio Flags of Honor display, which featured a flag for each of approximately 290 individuals who lost their lives in either Iraq or Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, was joined with an additional 450 tribute flags from the community for the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Residents, first responders, veterans and their families attended the ceremony Friday.
“It is a wonderful thing to have the Ohio Flags of Honor here,” said Event Chairman and Freedom Grove Park Committee member Terry Rittenhouse. “The folks coming here today are just like me and you – they understand the sacrifices that were made and what is required as Americans to remember, to participate and to honor the soldiers represented by the flags. Each flag not only represents a fallen soldier, but also a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, and for many of them, their own sons and daughters.”
Ohio Flags of Honor got its start with Gino and Lisa Zimmer of Delaware, Ohio. They are the parents of Spc. Nicholaus E. Zimmer of the U.S. Army who was killed in Iraq. The Zimmers started the display in honor of their son, and the first flag set was in honor of him. The flags each represent a soldier lost in battle, and it travels to different communities to recognize fallen soldiers.
Urbana residents Cindy and Mike White have their own flag in the display in honor of their son, Jeremy Greene, an Army soldier killed April 28, 2007 in Afghanistan. Cindy White, who works at ORBIS Corporation, wanted to honor her son and others who have lost their lives defending the country and worked to bring the Ohio Flags of Honor display to Freedom Grove. ORBIS donated the funds to bring the memorial to town.
“It’s about them, not us,” she said during a pause in the ceremony.
Freedom Grove features a girder from a collapsed World Trade Center building in New York City. Rittenhouse was one of the group that went to collect that girder, and said he remembered how much of an impact it had on him and others. The group brought the girder back in an unmarked – except for the United States flag – truck and everyone knew that it contained a piece of the World Trade Center.
Vincent Foulk, an Urbana attorney, Army Reserve veteran, spoke of how he runs into patriots every day, even though he may not recognize them. Foulk, who worked for the U.S. Department of Defense as an advisor on legal issues in Iraq and Afghanistan, said this country’s enemies do not care about the political leanings, race, religion or background of Americans. They identify Americans as enemies because of their actions – voting, or supporting freedom. And American soldiers are always by your side, ready to fight.
“As patriots, you are not alone,” he said.
Also in attendance was World War II veteran Col. Roger “Jack” Tullis. Tullis, 93, who was in field artillery, remembered how difficult it was for him to watch the events of Sept. 11 unfold on his television screen.
“I couldn’t get up after that,” he said. “Those poor people.”
The remembrance event at Freedom Grove was “enough to make me get up this morning,” he said. Tullis said he appreciates the memorial and is pleased to have it in his community.
“I am thankful to this community that got this thing started,” he said of the Freedom Grove memorial.
The Ohio Flags of Honor display will be retired at 2 p.m. Sunday at Freedom Grove, Rittenhouse said. Community members are asked to help with the retiring of the flags at the ceremony, and to provide input in the months to come about next year’s ceremony. Rittenhouse added the committee is already working to bring the flag display back next year for the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.
Casey S. Elliott may be reached at 937-652-1331 ext. 1772 or on Twitter @UDCElliott.