GROVEPORT, Ohio (WCMH) — A traveling memorial is finishing its 16-year journey in Central Ohio over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.
On Friday morning, several dozen volunteers helped install close to 1,000 American and state flags at Madison Christian Church for the Ohio Flags of Honor memorial. 302 of the flags bear the names of Ohio service members killed in the line of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan and during the War on Terror.
“It’s an honor for me to honor them. The [families] appreciate me making sure their loved one’s not forgotten,” said Gino Zimmer, the founder of Ohio Flags of Honor.
Zimmer was inspired to create the traveling tribute after the death of his son, Nicholaus Zimmer, who was killed while on patrol in Iraq in 2004.
“My life just changed. He was my only child and I didn’t know what to do. I think God gave me a vision and I just took it … and it’s become this,” he said, gesturing to the field of flags.
Zimmer began traveling the state and setting the flags up in 2005. The following, he met Angelo Nuzzo while coordinating a display in Brook Park, Ohio. The retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel had his own life-changing experience when a plane struck near where he was working at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I was about 300 yards from being a name in a memorial myself. So I think there was some of that survivor’s guilt or whatever. You’re looking for ‘why am still left here on this Earth?’” Nuzzo said. “With this Flags of Honor memorial, I found my mission.”
The men estimate they’ve brought the flags to hundreds of locations throughout the state, sometimes hosting a dozen different displays in a single year. Each event, they see the impact the sight of hundreds of waving banners can make on visitors to the memorial.
“The stories I could tell through the years I’ve traveled and the people I’ve talked to… the people aren’t even related to this but they still get something out of it and still take something home,” Zimmer said.
“They become healing memorials for people,” Nuzzo added.
The Flags of Honor display will be open 24-hours a day until noon on Monday, July 5 in Groveport. Zimmer and Nuzzo hope visitors will be inspired by the patriotic scene one final time as they permanently retire the memorial.
“Even though these kids have gone from the face of the Earth, they’re still making an impact on people’s lives through this memorial,” Nuzzo said.
Zimmer added, “My son’s death was a miracle and a tragedy all rolled into one.”
OHIO FLAGS OF HONOR ‘FAREWELL TOUR’
Madison Christian Church, 3565 Bixby Road, Groveport, Ohio
- HOURS: Open 24 hours from noon Friday to noon Monday
- OPENING CEREMONY: 2 p.m. Saturday
- CLOSING CEREMONY: Noon Monday
- MEMORIAL DISMANTLING: Monday immediately after closing ceremony (volunteers needed)