It’s for sons and daughters. Mothers and fathers. Cousins and friends. It’s for all fallen soldiers of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. But ultimately, it was for you.
The University of South Dakota Veterans Club’s 6th annual flag display honoring fallen military from the War on Terror is on display this week in front of Old Main on campus. But this year, there are approximately 400 more flags.
“It’s a big jump, but not as big as some years,” Eric Gage, senior and president of the club said. “We’re glad the number isn’t growing as fast as it has, but it still shouldn’t be growing. Any new flag in the field is a tragedy for us.”
Members of the Veterans Club and volunteers from the Young Marines, a youth education and service program constructed the display Sunday afternoon.
This is the third year of the display for Gage who said the experience of putting the display up is “a little different” every year.
“We all know somebody and were close to somebody in this field,” he said. “Every year while putting up the flags, at some point I’m like, ‘OK, this is for you.’”
Gage said one of the hardest parts is not letting each person who has died turn into simply a number. He said he recalls an incident a few years ago in which family members of a fallen soldier added a sign with a name to one of the flags.
“They’re not from around here, but they came and saw about the flag display on the news and felt the need to have their fallen family member not just be a number,” Gage said.
To honor the soldiers individually, Gage said stories of at least one soldier are read each night during a ceremony.
There’s no way to give them all a name because there are so many, but we want to,” he said.
Sophomore and club member Caleb Olson said as a civilian, the flag display is a way for him to still be involved.
“This is a way I can contribute to our military and show them respect,” he said.
Freshman Ryan Baker said while the display is only flags in the ground, each one represents something greater.
“It’s just a flag here, but it’s a person, it’s a son or daughter, or dad,” he said. “One flag represents that one person, but doesn’t even touch the family that that person affected, or that death affected.”
Baker said the flag display helps remind the campus community of the gravity of the situation.
“It serves to kind of bring attention to students who have been fortunate enough not to be affected by having one of these flags represent somebody they were close to,” he said. “It’s not easy to just forget when it’s right there.”
For Gage, the display is not only about honoring the fallen, but also about gratitude.
“They sacrificed so we can continue. They gave everything and here I am at school. It’s the least I can do, and it’s not much.”
Reach reporter Josie Clarey at Josie.Clarey@usd.edu.