By Lauren Wanko
Six thousand eight hundred forty-seven American flags gently sway in the wind, honoring members of the military who died in Iraq and Afghanistan while serving our country.
“Sadly every year the total number of flags increases, but it has now become iconic at Southern Regional and iconic at the shore,” said Principal Eric Wilhelm.
The Thursday before each Memorial Day weekend, students at Southern Regional High School, the middle school and others in the Ocean County community place flags on Southern Regional’s lawn — one flag for each life lost.
In a ceremony today they paid tribute to our fallen heroes and veterans.
“It’s so good to see many veterans out here and so many people honoring the veterans,” said Ernest Boerner, a Navy veteran.
“It was our honor to do this, serve our country,” said Douglas Voorhis Jr., also a Navy veteran.
“My dad was at the invasion of Normandy, purple heart, bronze star. My uncle was killed in Korea, so it’s a big honor,” said Kim McAllister, an Army veteran.
“Being a naturalized citizen, I give thanks to America for letting me in and serve,” said Andrew Steiner.
Army veteran Steiner was born in Hungary.
“During the second World War, I was probably 13 years old. I remember GIs, how good they were to us. How many remember where they get there first chocolate? I got it from GIs,” he said.
When asked how honored he was to be an American Louis Esposito said, “It’s the highest honor you can have. I don’t think there’s any country in the world that’s better than this country.”
Sophomore Sam Laubach sang at the ceremony. Her mom’s a veteran and her dad is serving our country in Afghanistan.
“I couldn’t thank him enough for everything he does, especially putting his life out there for our freedom and our protection,” she said.
Southern Regional High School’s been organizing this event for the past five years. Residents, teachers and community groups have all donated money for the flags and wreaths. They’ll remain in place here throughout the holiday weekend and be taken down on Tuesday. They’ll be stored then, until next year.
Mark Simpson’s a retired Marine.
“I lost a lot of men in Vietnam,” he said.
Over the years he’s stayed on this lawn throughout the nights.
“Flags get blown over. I stand them back up. I spend my night with heroes,” Simpson said.
Where does that passion come from for him to do that?
“They give their lives so that we can do something with ours. It’s the least I can do,” he said.