The Monroe Township community will come together on Oct. 10 to place more than 600 American flags in front of the ambulance hall on Corkery Lane to represent soldiers who have committed suicide.
“The message is that we feel we cannot continue to ignore the pain and anguish that these veterans go through,” said John DeMarco, Vietnam vet and past grand knight of the Knights of Columbus Villa Maria Council in Galloway.
“Their war does not end, and we need to bring awareness to this ongoing tragedy.”
The Flags for Forgotten Soldiers display was the brainchild of Howard Berry, a Texas resident whose son, Staff Sgt. Joshua Berry, took his own life in 2013. Joshua was one of the soldiers who survived the 2009 mass shooting in Fort Hood, Texas, where Nidal Hasan, an Army major and psychiatrist, fatally shot 13 people and injured more than 30 others.
Although Joshua survived the incident, he suffered with PTSD and anxiety for years before committing suicide, leaving behind a wife and young daughter. In 2017, The Flags for Forgotten Soldiers was introduced locally by Joshua’s aunt and uncle, Lynn and Dave Brown. Because Dave was a member of the Knights of Columbus, he asked his new club in Galloway to consider continuing the project throughout South Jersey, and DeMarco did not hesitate to accept.
Since then, the Knights of Columbus Villa Marie Council No. 6342 has created more than 35 displays of flags locally and one in Wilmington, Delaware. The 660 flags placed represent the number of veteran and soldier suicides that occur every month, according to a Veteran Affairs study that took place in 2013.
The flag displays feature a banner that includes the Veterans Suicide Awareness phone number and the three-digit code, 988, used to reach a suicide hotline. The display is left up for one month after installation to allow ample time for it to reach people in need.
“After seeing this display, we hope a veteran might make a different choice,” said DeMarco, referring to suicide. “We also feel it’s important to let the families know their loved one is not forgotten, or to reach out to a veteran in need.”
The display is being brought to the township after Monroe Human Resource Director Christina Scola and Public Works Assistant Deb Bender saw one in Folsom earlier this month that caught Scola’s eye immediately. She then decided to partner with Bender and bring the idea to the township.
“When you see the 660 flags placed and you are curious as to why, then you see that it is to help spread awareness for veteran suicide prevention, that it is representation of people that die, but by their own hands,” Scola noted. “It really puts things into perspective.
“When you see that you realize how powerful that is.”
For next month’s Flags for Forgotten Soldiers display, Scola will welcome volunteers of all kinds to help place the 660 flags donated by the Knights of Columbus. The Monroe police chief and some of his officers will be in attendance to help, and Scola admits she will take all the help she can get.
“Anyone who wants to participate is welcome; you can just show up,” she noted. There will also be a small ceremony and a talk on the history of the event and display.
Anyone interested in creating their own Flags for Forgotten Soldiers display can reach out to DeMarco by calling (973) 228-4211. For more information about the display in Monroe, reach Scola at (856) 728-9800, ext. 205. Bender can be reached at (856) 728-9844.
Soldiers in need of help can reach out to the Veterans Crisis Hotline at (800) 273-8255 or dial 988 for suicide prevention.