On Thursday evening, a flag-raising ceremony was held in honor of Travis Bruce, a soldier who died in Iraq more than 16 years ago.
The setting was slightly different from most military ceremonies. The singing of the National Anthem, the playing of Taps, and the three-gun salute all took place at the home of Kim Bruce, Travis' older sister.
There is a permanent memorial for her brother in the front yard of her Northern Heights home. And as the American flag rose from it, Travis' mom and dad, Kenneth Bruce and Victoria Bruce, his sisters, Kim Bruce and Tonya Nelson, and friends and neighbors looked on. The salute performed by Whitlock-Sonnenberg Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1215 shattered the early evening sweltering stillness.
Victoria, Bruce's mom, said she appreciates anything that keeps her son's memory alive and vibrant.
"What I like is that he's never forgotten," she said before the ceremony. "I know he can see what's going on. He knows he has friends. He's up there knowing that he's popular."
Thursday's ceremony was also held to promote the Honor and Remember flag. Like the POW MIA flag for missing service members, the Honor and Remember flag is designed to raise awareness and become a permanent symbol for fallen soldiers.
So far, 26 states, including Minnesota, have adopted the flag, said Keith Schlessor, Kim Bruce's boyfriend and a supporter of the flag. The goal is to have it recognized as a national flag in the same way as the POW MIA flag. It took 19 years for the POW flag to be recognized as such.
The idea for a flag for fallen service members originated with George Lutz after his son, George Anthony Lutz II, was killed by a sniper's bullet in 2005 while on a patrol in Fallujah, Iraq. In the months that followed, George Lutz visited other families who had lost loved ones in Iraq. He realized that he and these other families belonged to a unique fellowship.
He also realized that after the grief and numbness had passed, many of these families wanted to make sure that the nation would never forget their sacrifices. He also wanted to make sure that these sacrifices were not in vain.
"When our family received our flag, it just meant a lot to me," said Kim Bruce. "I've talked about how much it meant. Three years ago, I did a presentation in front of my co-workers. And it's just always been alive there."
The hand-stitched flags are layered in symbolism. The red that covers two-thirds of the flag represents the blood spilled by service members. The white along the bottom represents the purity of sacrifice. The red flame in the middle of a gold star stands as an eternal reminder of that loss.
Bruce was killed March 23, 2005, while serving as a military police officer in Baghdad when a mortar round detonated near his position. He was 21 years old.
"He was a character. He loved people, and people loved him. And he loved the service," said Victoria Bruce.
"Anything to do with our son, we're for it," said Kenneth Bruce, Bruce's dad, who had traveled from Washington state to attend the ceremony.