PERRY TWP., Ohio - Beginning early Friday, the lawn in front of Perry High School will become a breathtaking display of American flags in observance of Memorial Day.
The Flags of Freedom display is made up of 1,200 American flags flanking the permanent war memorial on the school grounds that bears the names of 11 local heroes who gave their lives in the Vietnam War and in the Middle East, including that of U.S. Marine Sgt. Dan Patron.
It was Patron's sacrifice that helped inspire the display.
Patron, who died in Afghanistan in 2011, was a graduate of Perry High School, where his mother still teaches.
"Our pride is mixed with heartbreak, for sure, obviously because Danny didn't come home the way we thought Danny was going to come home," said Kathy Patron.
Steve Toohey says the idea of the flag display came the first Memorial Day after Patron's death during a gathering of family and friends.
"I remember Kathy walking by me and she said, 'What can we do so that nobody will ever forget Danny and the other young men who have been killed?' and it was kind of like a light switch went off," said Toohey.
"Operation Flags of Freedom definitely came to be after Danny was killed in Afghanistan but it's not just about Danny; it's about the other 10 men who were killed in the Vietnam War and in the Iraq war who also gave their lives in service to our country," said Patron.
"I want to honor them as much as I honor Danny because it's for all of them that these flags are erected on this field every year," she added.
"It obviously hit home for the Patron family on August 6, 2011 when our doorbell rang at 10 a.m. I looked through the peephole of our door and I saw on the other side two Marines standing there. I knew what they were there for and since that day obviously the reality of what Memorial Day really is hits us hard every single year," said Patron.
Perry's observance will begin with a ceremony at 9 a.m. and will continue through the evening with fireworks following a free concert.
Also recognized this year will be 94-year-old Raymond Booker, who served during WWII, driving supplies through dangerous enemy territory to sustain the thousands of allied fighters following the D-Day invasion at Normandy in 1944.
"We always ask that every day, every time you see a veteran in a very sincere way shake his or her hand and thank them for their service," said Toohey.
Both Toohey and Patron believe Americans should enjoy the freedom we have as they celebrate the Memorial Day weekend, but hope observances like Operation Flags of Freedom will help people remember what our freedom cost.
"By all means laugh and celebrate life and have fun with your families but speak the names of those that we have lost because as long as their names are spoken at least we know that they are remembered, so it's the only purpose sometimes that we can find in the loss," said Patron.