By George Lutz
Fourteen years ago, I considered myself a typical American. I wasn’t any more or less patriotic than the next person. I flew an American flag and I was proud of my country. But I gave no thought to the men and women who served and sacrificed in our military. Let’s be honest, we all want to go about our lives doing the things that we enjoy without bothering anyone else around us — just enjoying our freedoms without thought.
My son Tony joined the army in the spring of 2003 and being that typical American, I certainly supported his decision. I told him to be careful and that I was proud of him. He was old enough to make his own choices, so I hugged him and sent him on to serve his country. As a military family, we decided to put yellow ribbons on all the trees outside, because that’s what you did. But that didn’t make me think any more about the thousands who decided to serve before him. It was nothing extra special to me, it was his job.
But something happened while I was living this life of a typical American. My son wasn’t coming home. He was killed on the battlefield in Iraq and would never walk through our front door again. Something had happened that my family couldn’t have planned for. My world was rocked and my family was devastated.
From that moment, every day became important. Every holiday, birthday, anniversary became more significant because he was now a memory. And of course, Memorial Day and Veterans Day, two days that previously I never gave a second thought, became much more meaningful.
As a grieving father, I went on a quest to find out how Americans remember loved ones lost in military service. What things do we do? What words do we say? What visuals do we display? What I found was quite surprising: we had nothing specific. What my research uncovered was that there wasn’t much that specifically represented those who gave their lives or the Gold Star families they left behind.
We do a lot as Americans for military men and women we can see or touch … those in active duty, the medal recipients, the wounded and others. But when it comes to tangibly remembering the fallen, we set aside one day: Memorial Day. Interesting, there are studies that have found that between 50 and 80 percent of Americans do not know why Memorial Day exists. However, to the family of a fallen hero, every day is Memorial Day.
That brings us to Veterans Day. Consider this little known fact: Veterans Day is not just about living veterans, it is also about those men and women who would have been veterans had they not died in service to America. Their families observe Veterans Day differently. Their only wish on Veterans Day is that their loved ones be remembered.
In my journey as a father who prayed that the loss of his son was not in vain, I made it my mission to find a way for the sacrifice of those selfless men and women to be perpetually appreciated — a tangible message that expresses gratitude for giving all for the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.
It was with that purpose in mind that the Honor and Remember flag was created. My hope was that the flag would be established as our nation’s specific symbol of remembrance. It is a symbol that simply declares every day: Thank you, we will never forget. It is a message that not only recognizes those that didn’t come home, but also pays tribute to those families and friends who are still with us who will grieve for the rest of their lives.
Gen. George Patton once said, “Let us not mourn that such men died but let us rejoice that such men lived.” On this Veterans Day, one of the most important things we can do as Americans is never forget all of those who served our nation in military service, including those who didn’t come home.
GEORGE LUTZ, Founder, Honor and Remember/Father of Fallen Soldier
George Lutz is the founder and executive director of Honor and Remember Inc., a non-profit organization dedicated to perpetually recognizing our fallen Military heroes and their families. Through the creation of the Honor and Remember Flag the organization’s mission is to establish a public national symbol that recognizes with gratitude and respect the men and women who died in military service to America. Further goals include broad national awareness and education of the flag’s meaning and importance and to present personalized Honor and Remember Flags to the immediate families of all our nation’s fallen. George is the father of Corporal Tony Lutz, who was killed in Iraq in 2005 and who is the inspiration for the Honor and Remember Flag.
To learn more, visit www.HonorAndRemember.org