Flags for Forgotten Soldiers offers awareness and prayer

Six hundred and sixty flags will be displayed at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in St. Joseph during the month of November.  The Flags for Forgotten Soldiers honor and raise awareness for the average of 660 veterans who commit suicide every month. (Sara Kraft/Key photo)

By Sara Kraft

An impressive 660 American flags will stand at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in St. Joseph for the month of November. The parish is situated at the busy intersection of Frederick and Leonard Streets in St. Joseph. Despite windy weather in the low forties, over two dozen people came to help set up flags on Saturday, November 3. The setup took about an hour. Father Christian Malewski, pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, later offered a brief prayer service to pray for all active duty military and those veterans who are considering suicide.

“Each flag represents a man or woman who felt the only way they could end their pain was to take their own life,” explained organizer Lynn Brown.

Every month, an average of six hundred and sixty veterans commit suicide. That is almost eight thousand veteran suicides a year. Flags for Forgotten Soldiers places 660 flags at churches and other public places to honor these men and women. This number does not include the veterans who die each month due to self-medication, opium, or single car accidents.

Flags for Forgotten Soldiers was started in March 2017 by Howard Barry. Since that time, displays have been placed in thirty-one states seeking to raise awareness of those veterans who commit suicide. Lynn and David Brown, family members of Howard Barry, moved to St. Joseph four months ago and brought the event to St. Joseph. The flags will stand at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish throughout the month of November, a month where our nation typically honors our veterans.

The event seeks to “touch hearts, and maybe help someone make a different choice,” explained Lynn. “Families need to know their loved ones are not forgotten and to show love and support for those that are struggling.” They also hope the display will inspire someone to reach out to a veteran in need.

This cause is very near to the Brown family’s hearts.

Lynn’s nephew Staff Sergeant Joshua Barry was injured at the first Fort Hood shooting, where a U.S. Army major fatally shot 13 people and injured over 30 others in November 2009. In February 2013, Staff Sergeant Barry took his own life. “Basically, it took him four years to die,” explained Lynn. Because he had survived two tours in Afghanistan and was on an army base in the United States, he felt he should have been safe.

“My brother (founder Howard Barry) wanted to honor my nephew and all the other men and women who are struggling,” explained Lynn. Lynn was quick to add the flags were not for her nephew specifically, but she hoped his memory could help save others.

“I know it’s an average, but one is too many. We just want to keep widening the circle and raising awareness so hopefully there won’t be so many deaths,” she explained.

Participants were moved by the large display.

“We don’t have any veterans in our family,” said Cindy Soper, “but we definitely support them. Veterans have a hard life when they return. I pray for them every day.”

“As Catholics, we uphold the dignity of every person,” explained Father Malewski. “We want to give hope to those veterans suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). We want them to know God loves them and there is hope.”

“People need to be aware of the price people pay for our freedoms. Even when people come back from active duty, they are still fighting,” stated Father Malewski.

The banners on the display encourages those struggling utilize the Veteran’s Crisis Line, a suicide prevention hotline open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, or text 838255. For more information on the program, visit www.facebook.com/FlagsForForgottenSoldiers/.

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Tuesday
November 13, 2018
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph