ST. LOUIS – The Flags of Valor display in Forest Park are paying tribute to first responders killed on 9/11 and the military service members who lost their lives in the War on Terror that followed.
Organizers and volunteers began reading the names of each individual represented by the over 7,500 flags Friday at sunset. The reading was ongoing Saturday morning. A bell rang after each name is read.
“Well, the mantra for veterans is ‘never forget,’ the sacrifice and the pictures and everything,” said Mike LeBlanc, Founder St. Louis Veterans LLC.
“Those guys, that’s what they signed up for, the families didn’t. So, if we don’t help the families remember then it’s all for nothing.”
Megan O’Brien, VP of Patriot Training Foundation, said “Flags of Valor is incredible.”
“It’s 7,582 flags representing every service person lost in the war on terror since 9/11. That includes the first responders on 9/11 and civilians that lost their lives during the attacks.”
That includes the most recent 13 service members like Wentzville native Marine Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz. Flags of Valor, America’s heartland, remember is what they call this display here at Art Hill in Forest Park.
On the 20 anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the American Legion Post 213 and STL Veterans LLC conducted the first complete reading of the fallen post 9/11.
“When we annunciate their name and the sound reverberates followed by the memorial bell, they come alive for nine nanoseconds,” LeBlanc said.
“It’s very emotional,” says O’Brien. “I’ve cried every day. It’s very cathartic and therapeutic for folks. We have service members looking for people they served with, we have families looking for loved ones.”
This reading of the fallen roster includes 7,054 service members who gave the ultimate sacrifice, as well as 2,568 civilians and 412 first responders who perished in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
Friday evening at sunset, each name was read aloud followed by the ring of a memorial bell along with a salute at each flag, which continued through the night and into Saturday morning.
“Tough one,” LeBlanc said. “The crazy thing is the community came out so big for this. If you weren’t there, you missed it, and that’s the love. That’s the big thing.”
Flags of Valor, the non-profit first started in 2011, on the ten-year anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001. Then, some 2,977 flags were placed on Art Hill to remember the individuals lost at the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, on Flight 93, and the first responders who gave their lives to save others.
“I think the thing to remember is each of these flags, while it represents one service member, it also represents all the lives that that person has touched,” O’Brien said.
“We’ve had folks who are grade schoolteachers that recognized the fallen, sports coaches from grade school or high school or people they served with. You really see the impact of a single life on the whole community.”
The Flags of Valor will be on display until Monday.
For more information, visit the organization’s website.