Elevating Our Fallen Hometown Heroes

The Story of A Gold star mother, Hometown Hero Banners and Their Nationwide Resonance

“My son is the reason I get up in the morning and try on a new day. When I finally do catch up to him in that other dimension, I want him to be as proud of me as I am of him and I have a lot of catching up to do in that department. My son’s legacy is very simple for me, if I live a life constantly worrying about my parachute, I will never truly soar with the eagles like he did.”

These were some of the words Ruth Stonesifer said at the ceremony for the unveiling of one of the most famous Hometown Hero celebrations ever created. All brought to fruition because of her son, Kris Stonesifer.

How It Started

It all starts with Operation Enduring freedom, this was the name given to the war in Afghanistan that spanned from 2001 to 2014. It started in response to the September 11th terrorist attack. The fight against Al-Quaeda and Taliban forces was dragged out over two decades with many wins, such as the tracking and raid on Osama Bin Laden. Although, the war did not go without serious American losses. And Ruth’s son, Kris was one of those early losses in this fight on terror. 

During a training mission, Kris’ UH-60 Black hawk helicopter crashed in Pakistan. Like many families that lose loved ones to war, Ruth was devastated. But sometimes, we are able to find a way out of our darkest moments. And 6 years later in 2007, Ruth found that reason in a very strange way.

Gold Stars and Banners

Ruth had heard of a group in California creating avenue banners for fallen heroes, but at the time it was a very small-scale project trapped in a small area of the US. She couldn’t find anybody doing it on the east coast at all! Being active in the Gold star community filled her in with all this information. Gold star families are families that have lost loved ones as an active service member.

Ruth kept herself busy by staying active with a few different gold star organizations that advocated for people that lost children and loved ones in war. This banner project became the project that she could lead and make a difference in the gold star families across the country.

More than anybody, These families know that freedom comes with a steep price tag. Ruth knew these banners could be the reminder of why motorists passing by could live a comfortable life, sipping coffee on the way to work and yelling at the person in front of them for driving like an imbecile. Maybe these banners could help them realize how small their problems really are.

Taking On The Project

So Ruth got busy, She reached out to every single Gold star family in Pennsylvania and amazingly, 140 out of 183 said yes to participating in this banner display. But there was a problem. These banners were prohibitively expensive at the time and Ruth didn’t want it to be just another display. This was going to be the start of something incredible that would spread across the US and she couldn’t let go of the idea just because she couldn’t afford to do it all herself! 

She had gone through the struggle of gathering photos, securing light posts and utility posts all throughout the city of Harrisburg and dealing with all the local government requirements in the world to make this happen. Luckily, some local businesses and a local printing business loved the idea. She was able to convince them to do it on great terms. Thus, the Hometown Hero banners were born and a ceremony was held to commemorate the moment in the summer 2007. Hundreds of people gathered in Harrisburg at the capitol building to celebrate the lives of their family members and friends.

Since this first hero banner unveiling in 2007, hundreds of towns have followed suit. And it wasn’t just for the fallen of the Iraq and Afghanistan war anymore. Word began to spread to other families that had lost loved ones in other wars like WW2, Vietnam and Korea. Sacrifice comes in many shapes and sizes. 

Reflecting on the past

Ruth, an outstanding and thoughtful person, was quick to answer our questions upon emailing her. She wrote to us saying,”I got to meet the most amazing Gold Star families that do way more than I ever dreamed possible with turning grief into positive outcomes for the living, especially the wounded veterans.”

We couldn’t agree more with Ruth. Making these banners has always been a privilege for us at Gettysburg Flag Works. Being named after an iconic Pennsylvania city lends itself well to a movement that all started in the keystone state. If you are inspired to add your town to the list of towns creating these beautiful display’s, please reach out to us because we would love to make this project come to fruition for you!

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