The Star Spangled Banner yet waves — thanks to them.
A Brooklyn-based charity for the families of fallen soldiers planted its annual Field of Flags in John Jones Park on May 26 — 307 small standards for each person from New York state to die in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I found in doing it, the stories of the individuals and their families, each was unique and important. I wanted a way to share that information,” said Charlie Gili, founder of U.S. Hockey Players Support Our Troups.
Gili — a youth hockey coach and Brooklyn chief of operations for the Parks Department — and his family started the charity of 2007 in rememberance of his World War II veteran father and of Mike Murphy, a Navy SEAL killed in Afghanistan. Murphy, a Long Island native whose death is portrayed in the 2013 film “Lone Survivor,” was wearing a Fire Department patch at the time of his killing. His story inspired Gili to sell patches to raise money for “Gold Star” families who have lost a loved one to the war — and to seek out those families himself.
“We decided we wanted to do something for the families that are losing their kids and their husbands,” Gili said.
One of the very first New York victims whose family Gili donated to was a young hockey player from just outside Buffalo. Gili, who has now connected with some 1,300 families nationwide, said he found hockey to be a common denominator for many servicemembers.
“There are quite a few soldiers who grew up in youth sports in general, and there are quite a number of hockey players we’ve come across,” Gili said.
Gili started the Memorial Day Field of Flags in 2009, to call greater attention to the individual lives sacrificed in the Middle Eastern conflicts. They now attract not just civilians, but also veterans and active-duty members of the military.
“Every year we have someone who shows up who is an immediate family member or knew one of the people those flags represent,” Gili said. “You’ll see a soldier just kneel down by one of the flags and start crying.”