There are flags being hung in front of the West Suffield Congregational Church. They were given to us by the family of Benjamin Franklin Yates (WWI veteran) and Albert P Yates (WWII and Korean War veteran). Both men lived in West Suffield. The flags received were originally draped over the men’s coffins and presented to their family afterwards. The flags are now in possession of Susan Yates, daughter of Albert, and are loaned to the church for Memorial and Veterans Day.
Flags are an unusual thing to put on the front of a church, but there is a deep history of service here. We currently have three active military personnel connected to the congregation, one of whom is a beloved Deacon. In addition, we have veterans who have served both in peacetime and in conflict. As a child of the military, I recognize the congregation’s desire to honor our veterans, and to memorialize those we have lost. The flags are a concrete way of saying, “We care. We recognize your sacrifice.” We understand, only in part, what it means to be in the armed services. Most veterans do not talk about the harder parts of their service. They carry their pain in secret, as though it is a personal failing. It is not, pain is the product of a broken world, and our veterans are only trying to keep us and others safe.
While Memorial Day is designated as a day of remembrance for those who lost their lives in service, the hanging of the flags can be seen as a way for our church to remember the sacrifices of others and to say, “Thank you” and “You are seen” to those who remain.
Too often today, and in history, we have veterans who have survived their tours, but they come home significantly changed. Sometimes they have physical challenges, wounds we can see, but so many more have wounds that are invisible. They can be in anguish, but they remain unseen, and all too often, unhoused. The current estimate in this country is that there are over 40,000 veterans who are homeless at this time. We, at West Suffield Congregational, will memorialize, not just the dead, but those whose former lives are lost to brain damage, addiction, or PTSD.
We hang these flags for them, too. It is our way of saying, “We see you, and honor you. You are valuable, a child of God, loved and held in prayer.”