More than three years ago Rita Schmitz saw a Flags of Honor display in Minnesota that she called a “stunning display.” At that point, she wanted to bring it to her community in West Salem, Wis.
With the assistance of Berg Hemker Olson American Legion Post 51, a similar display involving 600 U.S. flags has now gone up at West Salem Village Park to remember 9/11 for three straight years, most recently this past weekend to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Post 51 sponsors the Flags of Honor display and ceremony, while Schmitz serves as its coordinator.
“I thought that if we have the opportunity to bring it to West Salem, why wouldn’t we?” said Schmitz, who has spent years volunteering along members of Post 51’s American Legion Family in support of its mission. “And to see people to have an opportunity to honor their loved ones (through the display) is really quite humbling. And to see people’s reactions when they walk through, it’s priceless.”
The post accepts donations to sponsor a flag honoring a specific individual, or “hero”; that person’s name is displayed on a card placed on one of the 600 flagpoles.
The flags were placed the morning of Sept. 10 and stayed on display from noon that day until 3 p.m. Sept. 12. Students from the West Salem Honor Society helped assemble the flags and arrange sponsorship cards, and throughout the weekend served as volunteer guide through the display, as did Post 51 Legion Family members.
The post also hosted a remembrance ceremony at the park that included a student singing the national anthem, a speech on the importance of remembering 9/11, a moment of silence, and the recognition of local first responders and veterans.
Schmitz said an interaction with a man who visited Flags of Honor a few years ago still sticks with her. “What he told me, and I think this is true for everybody, is when you walk through that (display), it does something to you,” she said. “He said ‘I will tell you, I was in the Navy’, and he said ‘there’s not much that humbles me anymore. Every time I walk through these flags displayed like this, it humbles me again.’
“When you walk through the display itself, it just takes your breath away.”
Across the nation, American Legion Family members helped commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11. The following are a few examples. Please remember to share your stories and photos at www.legiontown.org.
American Legion Post 230 and the Martinsville Fire Department teamed up for a memorial service that also included the Martinsville Police Department, Washington Township Fire Department and Morgan County Sheriff's Office. The fire department hosted a bell ceremony to recognize the victims of the Sept. 11 attack, while representatives of the Indiana Spirit of '45 performed taps on their bugles.
Iowa’s District 6 American Legion Riders sponsored the 20th anniversary American Legion Patriot Ride, which included more than 100 motorcycles riding from Big Barn Harley-Davidson in Des Moines through Polk City, Cambridge and Elkhart. The money raised from the ride goes to assist local charities.
· In Hampton on Sept. 11, American Legion Post 35 rededicated its Global War on Terrorism Monument, adding the names of two local servicemembers killed in action since 9/11. “This ceremony is part of our commitment to you Gold Star families," Post 35 Commander Berk Bennett said. "The names of your fallen heroes are engraved on the monument forever as a testament to their service for all to see. We say the names of your loved ones, so they are not forgotten."
· In Rumford, American Legion Post 24 conducted a ceremony at the Memorial Bridge in Rumford to honor all those lives lost during the 9/11 attacks. Led by three Rumford Fire Department fire engines, members of Post 24 walked to the bridge for the ceremony. “A new generation has arrived. The infants, toddlers and young children of 9/11 are now adults,” Post 24 Legionnaire and Maine Americanism Officer Tricia Thurston said. “Some lost parents on that day. Others lost siblings and friends. Some have served in the military or became first responders as a tribute to those who were lost. Evil came to America and Americans responded.” Post 24 Vice Commander Jack Blanchard added “What occurred on 9/11 was indeed tragic, but the legacy of those lost on that day need not be so.”
In Pinckney, American Legion Post 419 and St. Mary Catholic School came together to honor 9/11. Members of the post and local firefighters came to the elementary school to lower the flag to half-staff, and teach students about military and first responder heroes and the tragic events that took place 20 years ago. Past Post 419 Commander Jim Wallace, a former firefighter, also showed the students how to fold the flag.
· In Eagan, American Legion Post 594 and the Eagan Lions Club conducted a "Day of Remembrance" at Tribute and Memorial Plaza that included speeches from Police Chief Roger New, Fire Chief Hugo Searle, Eagan High School teacher and veteran Paul Kovach, and M Health Fairview EMS Deputy Chief Tom Dunn Jr.
· In Mantorville, Kasson American Legion Post 333 helped sponsor a Field of Flags dedication ceremony that placed more than 100 U.S. flags in the field behind the Dodge County Administration Office. The field honors veterans, EMS, police, and others who serve the public each day. “We just want to show people we honor our veterans, we honor the people that work for us, and whether it is a big community or a small community, everybody should be honoring them,” Post 333 Legionnaire Richard Denny said.
· In Greenville, American Legion Post 291 hosted an event at the gazebo in Veterans Memorial Park that included the post’s color guard, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
· In Canandaigua, a parade led to American Legion Post 256 and its Trail of Remembrance 9/11 monuments to commemorate the day. The ceremony included remarks by Legionnaires and community members, lighting of candles, ringing of bells, a memorial prayer, a rifle salute and music.
· In Olean, American Legion Post 530 hosted an event at Lincoln Park that kicked off with a parade of emergency response vehicles from several communities in the area on Saturday, firefighters, police officers and EMTs. Hundreds of area residents attended the ceremony.
· In Horseheads, American Legion Riders Chapter 442 conducted a remembrance ride that included more than 150 motorcycles. In addition to the ride, there were vendors, live music, raffles and a craft fair; money raised from the ride and event went directly to the First Responders Fallen Children's Foundation.
In Amherst, hundreds attended a memorial ceremony in front of Town Hall that included a wreath laying, the striking of a bell in remembrance of those first responders who died on 9/11 and the U.S. military who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror.
“Your presence here sends a message that we will never forget 9/11, like we have never forgotten Pearl Harbor,” American Legion Post 118 Commander Clark Bruner said during the ceremony.
· In Celina, American Legion Post 145 hosted a ceremony in the downtown square that included Celina police officers, fire department personnel, city officials and residents. “The American Legion thought that because of the anniversary of 9/11, it was on us to spearhead an event to bring everyone together and pray and remember what happened 20 years ago,” Post 145 Commander Andy Hopkins told the Celina Record. “For the turnout we get, the support we get, for our first responders, our city in general, it’s really heartwarming to see.”
· In Cedar Park, American Legion Hunter-Morris Memorial Post 911 hosted an event that focused on those who died in the attacks and the heroes who came to help them. The ceremony consisted of moments of silence at the same time as the attacks, as well as various speakers from public safety and local military representatives. "I never thought that we would never, ever see another Pearl Harbor. We saw another Pearl Harbor 20 years ago today,” Post 911 Commander P.T. Turner said. “Always remember what those folks did, not only the ones that were innocent and died in it, but the ones that ran toward the building knowing that they were putting their lives in danger. Sure death in some cases. And they went anyway.”
In Strasburg, American Legion Shenandoah Post 77 was the site of a remembrance ceremony attended by nearly 100 area residents. Speakers included local government leaders and first responders.
· In Charles Town, American Legion Riders Chapter 71 staged a ride that featured 52 motorcycles and honored Jefferson County first responders. The 70-mile ride passed by each of the county’s police and fire stations and departed following the conclusion of the area’s annual remembrance ceremony at Independent Fire Department in Ranson.
· In Wheeling, American Legion Post 1, the city of Wheeling and the Ohio County Commission organized the “9/11 We will Never Forget” commemoration event at the Ohio County Airport. Past Department Commander John Powell served as the master of ceremonies for the event and thanked the Ohio County Commission for their part in organizing the event. “I think it is a great success and I thank them for what they’ve done to pay tribute to the veterans and the first responders,” Powell said.