Duluth, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) - When George Lutz saw the stars and stripes flying alongside the POW MIA flag at his son's funeral, he realized something was missing.
"The POW and MIA flag is being recognized, and rightfully so, but there's never been anything—any symbol—for a soldier that's given the ultimate sacrifice," said Mike LaBelle, director of Honor and Remember Minnesota.
Lutz—whose son Tony was killed in action by a sniper in Fallujah—went on to create the Gold Star Flag—a symbol uniting families and friends whose loved ones gave their lives for their country.
"It should have been done 200 years ago, and now it's here," said LaBelle.
Honor and Remember Minnesota raises money to buy each flag for every fallen soldier in the state—and LaBelle said other states across the nation are already adopting the flag: "Philadelphia—they are flying that flag on every federal and state building for Pennsylvania right now."
And while a bill calling for Minnesota to adopt the flag is scheduled to be presented to the state House of Representatives on Tuesday, on Sunday the mission was personal: present a flag to the Northland families whose loved ones were lost in the War on Terror.
On each flag—symbols of their sacrifice: The red background represents the blood that was spilled, the blue around the star recognizes our deployed soldiers, the folded flag is the last tribute.
Not all families honored on Sunday lost a loved one in action, however, as the flag also serves to honor the victims claimed by the mental wounds of war.
"PTSD is a huge problem right now. They're mentally and emotionally wounded. Some die of their wounds, and we recognize them," said LaBelle.
...which, according to Cheryl Softich—whose son Noah committed suicide after struggling with PTSD—took her breath away.
"We're not forgotten, none of us—no matter how we lost our child—we are not forgotten. Do you know what that means to us? Beyond words," said Softich.
While Softich claims the nations still has a long way to go in recognizing the severity of PTSD, she said the flag is a massive step in the right direction: "In the 4 ½ years since Noah's been dead, we have come so far. They acknowledge it now, that's more than they did then. So, this is a good thing. It's only going to get better."
...moving forward by looking back to honor our fallen heroes.
According to LaBelle, each flag given to a family in Minnesota is personalized, with the name, rank, date and location of death of the fallen soldier.