Vermonters who died as a result of their military service will soon have a new flag flying in their honor.
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Gov. Phil Scott signed legislation Thursday morning that grants special designation to the “Honor and Remember" flag.
Irasburg Rep. Vicki Strong was by all accounts the driving force behind legislation that will allow the flag to be flown on state and municipal properties.
At a bill signing ceremony on Thursday morning, Strong explained why.
“My family’s lives were forever changed when two Marines showed up at our door on a cold January night, 13 years ago,” Strong said.
Strong’s son, Marine Sgt. Jesse Strong, was killed alongside three other Marines during a firefight in Iraq in 2005. He was 24 years old.
Jesse Strong is one of 40 Vermonters killed in action in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another 1,235 residents of this state were killed in Vietnam, the Korean War and World War II.
Rep. Strong says the flag will serve as a reminder.
“Freedom comes with a price, and I am grateful for the men and women who are willing to serve and to pay that price for our freedom,” Strong says.
Marion Gray, who lives in Calais, says she knows that price well. Her stepson, Army Sgt. Jamie Gray, was killed in Iraq in 2004, when the vehicle he was driving in hit a roadside bomb.
Gray serves as the president of Vermont Fallen Families, and helped lead the fundraising campaign to construct the Global War on Terror Memorial at the state veterans cemetery in Randolph.
Gray says tangible symbols of the servicemen and servicewomen who have died — like the cloth of a flag or a granite monument — fill a void for her.
“Because I can’t reach out and touch my son anymore, I have to have something to touch,” Gray says.
Gray stood in the crowd of Scott’s ceremonial office during the bill-signing ceremony Thursday, and hugged him after he signed the bill into law. Then, Gray and Strong presented Scott with a customized version of the flag, bearing the name of his father, World War II veteran Howard R. Scott.
Howard Scott returned to home Vermont after losing both legs from an injury in World War II. He died years later from those service-related injuries.
Strong says the flag honors not only the service people who were killed in action, but people who died later as a result of their injuries or who took their own lives after serving.
Strong says the moment she learned her own son died was a traumatic moment that “will never go away.” And she says the grief of the mothers who lost their sons to suicide isn’t any different.
“They’re suffering the same level of pain and trauma that I suffered,” Strong says.
Twenty-three other states have granted the same official designation to the Honor and Remember flag.
Correction 5:35 p.m. The bill signing took place Thursday, not Wednesday as originally stated.