While most eyes will be turned to the sky this weekend for the Owensboro Air Show, there are 660 reasons to look downward when walking along the riverfront. For the past several years, the City of Owensboro, in partnership with Honor and Remember Kentucky, has ensured that 660 flags are placed near the Shelton Memorial in honor of the estimated 22 veterans who commit suicide each day.
The mission of the Kentucky Honor and Remember organization is to recognize the sacrifice of military families and pay tribute to all of the military lives lost while serving on active duty or as a result of serving.
“Honor and Remember honors those — not just killed in action — but also from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and suicide,” said Honor and Remember Director Leslie McCarty. “Every death is just as important, because every one of those individuals chose to serve their country. We don’t want to lose any of them, combat or not.”
McCarty said she was first inspired to display the flags by the acts of Lori Strother, the widow of a military veteran who committed suicide. Eleven years after her husband took his life, Strother set about to raise awareness by placing 660 flags in a prominent location in downtown London, Ky. There were 30 rows — each row representing a day of the month — with 22 flags per row symbolizing the 22 veterans lost daily to suicide.
“We have to do that here,” McCarty said. “Then I thought, ‘Who do I know that can do that?’”
McCarty reached out to Owensboro City Commissioner Pam Smith-Wright, knowing Smith-Wright had a strong passion for and was actively involved with local veterans. McCarty said the commissioner was on board immediately and was able to secure funding and placement for the flags.
“We always, as a city, support our veterans in every way possible. I would put our city up against any city when it comes to caring for and recognizing our veterans,” Smith-Wright said. “The flags say so much about our city — they are a symbol of this city’s support for those who have served, are serving and will serve.”
Since 2017, the flags have been placed near the Shelton Memorial in the weeks preceding Veterans Day. This year, the flags were displayed downtown the first week in September in conjunction with Kentucky’s Run for the Fallen.