OSU flag display honors fallen veterans
Friday, November 4, 2022
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Thousands of American flags on the Oklahoma State University Library Lawn make up a stunning display — each one representing a veteran who made the ultimate sacrifice.
On each of the 7,116 flags hangs a dog tag with the personalized information of a service member who has died since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The names are taken from the Department of Defense military casualty website and arranged in alphabetical order.
This year, 16 more flags were added to honor the lives that were lost in Afghanistan.
When he began working at OSU in 2020, OSU Veteran Success coordinator Vincent Rivera was surprised to learn about the annual tradition.
“Most universities do a flag display, but OSU is the only university in the country that does this where we use the DOD military casualty listing and attach an individual dog tag for every member,” Rivera said. “The sad thing is that this display will never get smaller, it will only ever get bigger.”
The flags and dog tags usually take about two days to set up with the help of student and veteran volunteers. The flag planting kicks off a week full of events created by the Office of Student Veteran Success to honor and support U.S. veterans. Students are encouraged to attend events and observe the flag display throughout the week of Nov. 7-11.
“When I see people walking by the flags, I like to let them know that each flag is a person who did not make it back to get their degree, who did not make it back to fulfill dreams they may have had,” Rivera said. “I’m never going to say that I’m happy to make someone somber, but that moment when the display takes on a new meaning is what it’s all about. It’s a sacrifice manifested in a tangible form.”
Rivera explained that every year, there are students or veterans wanting to find a particular dog tag to recognized and honor someone they knew.
“We’ll find people out here going through the flags and I’ll talk to them and find out that they’re looking for someone they knew,” Rivera said. “We usually have to replace six or seven dog tags a year because if people find the one they’re looking for, I will let them take it and replace it the next day.”
Volunteers helping with the flag planting are also impacted by the display.
Bryan Rich served in the U.S. Army during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Rich has helped with the OSU flag display for the past two years and works for a community outreach program with the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs.
“We have started doing community outreach and integration where we’re trying to find the vets who are kind of falling through the cracks or not engaging in certain services and connecting them with VA services or local nonprofits,” Rich said.
OSU is partnering with Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs to plan coffee socials and provide resources for veterans, faculty and veteran students to keep them connected and engaged. Rich can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday morning, before 8 a.m., Rich could be found on Library Lawn admiring the display.
“I wanted to get here early in the morning so I could take some pictures and just sit and listen to the sounds of the tags clinking against the flags,” Rich said. “It’s just surreal, peaceful.”
Story By: Hadley DeJarnette | email@example.com