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Joliet looks to commemorate Illinois’ fallen heroes

After a veteran and a Gold Star mother approached the city council last month voicing their concern for Joliet’s flag displays and lighting, officials have been working on another project to recognize and honor veterans.

Joliet resident Denise Meehan provided testimony at the council’s Dec. 6 meeting, saying she’s been pleased by the city’s willingness to get involved with a project she’s spearheading to commemorate Illinois’ fallen heroes.

Meehan said the Flags of Valor Project is looking to have a ceremony performed for Illinois’ fallen heroes and donate the unclaimed flags. In some cases, Illinois’ fallen heroes do not have families who can participate and retrieve them, she said.

“We would like to have a veteran preferably from one of the older generations as well as a current (Operation Iraqi Freedom) veteran to stand and receive that flag after it has been flown in honor, and then take the flags of those who do not have family, or whose family cannot participate, and have the city of Joliet send them to their hometown—wherever in Illinois it is—so that their hometown or their library or their school can have that remembrance of their hometown and local hero,” Meehan said. “For Joliet to be able to participate in this level in this incredible project is just astounding to me.”

The Gold Star mother said she’d been in contact with city officials off and on since the council’s Nov. 15 meeting, where she called on Joliet to take action to fix American flag displays and provide them with proper lighting. The project has its challenges, she said.

“Most of the flags were claimed by the individual family members in honor of their fallen hero,” Meehan said. “But, there are some that the families were not aware, they were not available and sometimes aren’t necessarily involved enough to want to do this kind of thing. As a result, there are 28 flags of Illinois’ fallen soldiers that have been unclaimed as (of) yet by the families. I am involved with this project, and one of my jobs with this project is reaching out to those 28 families, tracking them down.”

Meehan explained that this information is not exactly made available to the public, but there are ways to accomplish this feat.

“My job is reaching out to them and asking them if they would like to participate in a very special opportunity Flags of Valor would like to extend,” she said. “As a couple council members are aware, Flags of Valor would like to donate the 28 flags from Illinois’ fallen heroes to the city of Joliet to display. This is a huge honor. Now, councilman Hug and Hernandez Brewer both were a little bit overwhelmed as was I. This is an incredibly generous offer.”

Meehan said these flags are not your average American flags not only because they were flown in honor with the name and face of one of Illinois’ fallen, but because they’re made by a company called Annin Flag Company.

“It’s the oldest flag company in America,” she said. “The Annin flag is the one that was raised in Iwo Jima. Annin Flag is the one company that made the flag that went to the moon. An Annin flag is what draped Abraham’s Lincoln’s casket as he was brought back to Illinois. So, the significance of these individual flags (rests) on every level—what they stand for, where they come from and what they mean.”

Councilwoman Brooke Hernandez Brewer said Meehan’s work on this project has been beyond what the council expected.

“We’re glad to be able to do something (to help),” she said. “It’s not just one person, everybody’s got their say and their input in this and tried to help.”

The flags had not yet been shipped to Joliet as of the council’s Dec. 6 meeting.

Hernandez Brewer questioned if there’s a way for the city to provide further assistance with the project.

“There has to be a way for us to be able pay for the shipping for these flags,” she said. “(The Flags of Valor Project is) trying to raise the money to ship them to us and they refuse to charge us for them. We offered and they won’t charge.”

Mayor Bob O’DeKirk said there is a way they can help with the shipping of the flags, and they’ll work on it.

“Councilman (Larry) Hug and councilman (Brooke Hernandez) Brewer, they’ve been kind of on top of this,” he said, adding that he would like for them to keep the council updated.

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