Each fall, Tracy and Ricky Clark celebrate the memory of their son, Ryane, who was killed while fighting in Afghanistan in 2010. They honor him by hanging his Honor and Remember flag at the local American Legion during the month of October.
“Memories of our son may fade, but the flag will remind everyone of the men and women who have risked their lives to keep us safe,” Tracy Clark said.
The Clarks and other Gold Star families whose loved ones died in the service would like to see that sentiment spread. They are backing a bill in the Legislature that would allow Honor and Remember flags to be flown on Minnesota public buildings.
Although the bill is moving through committees in the House, it faces opposition from other veterans groups.
“It feels strange to have anything but Old Glory,” Rep. Jerry Newton, DFL-Coon Rapids, and a Vietnam vet, said during a hearing before the Veterans Affairs Division in March.
Honor and Remember flags were created in 2005 and are given to families of individuals killed in the line of duty, said Rep. Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake, who is sponsoring the legislation for the third time. Often the flag bears the loved one’s name.
More than 20 states have passed legislation to allow the flag, including South Dakota and Wisconsin, said Pat LaBelle, board member of Honor and Remember of Minnesota. “It only took about three weeks for Wisconsin to adopt the flag last year,” she added.
But Dettmer said it’s been tough to get some veterans groups on board with his bill. In March of 2014, Rob Hartley of the Minnesota Commanders’ Task Force sent a letter to the House saying the organization would not support the bill. He wrote that his group, which serves as a voice of 378,000 Minnesota vets, believes that “honoring our fallen veterans can only happen through the presentation of the American flag. … This is our flag that we honor and remember.”
Dettmer argues that his bill would not require anyone to fly the flag. It seeks permission to display it in public — just 12 days out of the year — to show gratitude for heroes’ sacrifices.
“We don’t have any other flags that represent our fallen,” Clark continued. “We have the POW/MIA, but it’s not the same.”
If public buildings were given the go-ahead, the Honor and Remember flag would be positioned below the United States and the POW/MIA flags, and would not have greater rank than the Stars and Stripes, LaBelle said.
Nonetheless, opponents say “it still feels that way.” Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, said at the hearing he did not have a problem with the Honor and Remember flag, but he still “can’t imagine having anything else” besides Old Glory.
Others testified they had “mixed feelings” because the flags are made for Gold Star families and personalized with their loved ones’ names. Some veterans also believe the color and logo are too similar to the Vietnamese flag.
“What is this going to cost the state?” Persell asked.
The state would not be responsible for the cost of individualized flags, Dettmer said. “Flags will be donated to the families, counties, cities, and even to the state.”
Leaders of the Commanders’ Task Force said they were hoping the bill would “die a quiet death” in committee last year.
Dettmer thinks the third time will be the charm, if people read the legislation and understand it’s not trying to enforce anything. “I do think it’s on its way,” he added.
The bill was reviewed by the State Government Finance Committee earlier this week, and Clark is hopeful it will pass soon. She said the Honor and Remember flag is beginning to gain recognition across the country.
“Before you say yes or no, remember who you are saying it to,” she said. “All we want is for people to never forget our fallen heroes.”
Tina Munnell is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.