By Dyann Nashton, Contributing writer
UTICA — Utica’s Memorial Parkway rippled red, white and blue last week to celebrate those currently serving in the nation’s military, veterans and first responders. A vast 1,000-flag display was the centerpiece of the “Flags for Heroes & Families” project created by The Good News Center.
According to Good News Foundation Executive Director Michael Buckley, “The display is very impressive as well as the response to them. While we were setting up, people were honking and calling out ‘thank you.’” The flags, many of which are tagged in honor or memory of a former or current military member, stand six feet tall.
Notre Dame Jr./Sr. High School’s National Junior ROTC students helped install the display, said Buckley. “The reverence and the sense of ceremony when these kids put the flags in the posts, sixteen across, was really something to see,” he added.
Donations to the flag program help The Good News Center reach out to military members and their families. “Our whole hope here is to help active military as well as veterans who are really struggling, especially with their families. These soldiers come back from places like Afghanistan and Iraq and they’re not the same as when they left.…” stated Buckley. “But it’s not only the active military and veterans, behind almost every soldier are a spouse and kids.”
He added that the foundation was working with military leadership to help bring support to families through its Third Option program. “The Good News Center got its roots here with The Third Option, but now with The Third Option International, we’re reaching well beyond the Mohawk Valley to places like Ghana, the Philippines and London,” Buckley said.
For the first time in many years, a parade for America’s defenders marched in Utica on Nov. 7 to the site of the flags. Led by the local La Banda Rossa marching band, the parade included representatives from local police and fire departments, veterans organizations, NJROTC programs and members of the military themselves. Organizers believe this year began a new tradition and the project will continue.
At the end of the parade, local dignitaries commented on the event to those assembled. Remarks began with an invocation by Father Paul Madej, retired Army chaplain, and concluded with Father Joseph Salerno, chaplain for the Utica police and fire departments and pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Church.
Father Madej said, “In scripture we read that there is a place for everything under heaven. Now, it is time to pause and honor those who defend our great nation. We thank you for your courage and sacrifice and we pray for those deployed in harm’s way that you keep them safe. For our families who wait in silence, give them peace.”
Father Salerno noted, “It is good to remember and know where we came from and see clearly where we want to go.” He concluded in prayer by saying, “May the symbol of these 1,000 flags remind us of the services of those who serve our great nation and remind us of their sacrifice. Let us remember also our first responders and may this week be a week of thanksgiving and remembrance.”
“Flags for Heroes & Families” was supported by community committee members including the Genesis Group, Feed Our Vets, Sitrin, Central New York Veteran’s Outreach Center, First Source Federal Credit Union, Sunnyrock Shores Music, American Legion Utica Post 229, the City of Utica, Utica Rotary Club, A&P Master Images and the Fraternal Order of the Eagles.
The Good News Center is a resource that strengthens the community by offering retreats, working with families and inspiring spiritual renewal. It is operated by The Good News Foundation, a Christian not-for-profit that supports parish and family life.
Dyann Nashton is a writer from Oneida, in the Eastern Region of the diocese. She also serves as the development associate at Notre Dame Jr./Sr. High School in Utica.
View a slideshow of photos from the flag display and the parade below. All photos by Tom Loughlin, Jr. for the Catholic Sun.