Pennsylvania’s Hometown Heroes Not Forgotten
While each of our Hometown Hero communities is special, there is only one that can take the honor of being the first in its area. Here is the story of how Pennsylvania’s Hometown Heroes Program got its start.
Pennsylvania’s Hometown Heroes will not be forgotten, thanks to the efforts of many individuals – including Ruth Stonesifer.
US Army Ranger Kristofor Stonesifer, Ruth’s beloved son, served in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001. Stonesifer lost his life in an October 19th, 2001 helicopter crash in Pakistan alongside fellow soldier, Jonn Edmunds.
“For some reason, I could not sleep the night of the accident.” Stonesifer recalls on her website. “I was out in the living room surfing the news programs. Scroll across the bottom of the screen mentioned that there were two casualties in a helicopter crash in Pakistan. The next morning when the Army Colonel arrived at my work in his Class A uniform, I knew why he was there. All I said was, ‘Pakistan.’”
Loss Turns to Determination
After her son’s death, Stonesifer was determined to connect with others who had lost loved ones. She joined forces with other Gold Star Mothers, hoping to “increase public awareness of the sacrifices our service people are making – those we’ve lost and those that still serve.”
Stonesifer began with the goal of erecting a banner in Harrisburg for every service member lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Stonesifer’s website, “about 140 of the then 183 Pennsylvania Gold Star Families chose to participate.” Banners were raised in May of 2007.
The 18- by 36-inch banners, made by Rileighs Outdoor Decor for the Hometown Heroes Program, were purchased by family members or friends. Banners feature a photo of the soldier, name, rank, branch of service, war or conflict, and the name of the sponsor. Stonesifer says that Rileighs was “thoughtful … Just outstanding to work with. Rileighs Outdoor Decor was willing to size and customize banners for our use.”
“When we started, it was a very grassroots effort. I worked with the Gold Star chapters in PA to help veterans. They were a way to connect with other Gold Star families to get permission to make flags. We tracked down families through newspaper clippings and mailed letters asking for information about fallen soldiers.”
Banner Program Gains Momentum
Stonesifer says the Harrisburg display moved many people. Gold Star Families soon approached other PA cities and towns, proposing similar honorary banner programs. Individuals from surrounding communities contacted Stonesifer for help with their own Pennsylvania Hometown Heroes programs. “We moved on to Bucks, Berks, and Montgomery counties. People were willing to organize and fundraise, and the banners went up!”
Stonesifer says anyone interested in the banner program should not be intimidated by the process. “Organizers get so much support from Veteran organizations, Blue Star Moms (mothers of those currently serving), friends, and relatives.”
“Form a good committee,” Stonesifer advises. “Enlist the help of the local newspaper and start a website or Facebook page to spread the word. Once you get the word out, the program will just take off.”
Pennsylvania’s Hometown Heroes Honored
Stonesifer’s website details many of Pennsylvania’s Hometown Heroes projects. A page within the site also names each of the state’s 311 heroes who died in the Afghanistan and Iraqi Conflicts. Pictures of the brave men and women scroll continuously at the top of the page – each face a loved one lost.
Ruth Stonesifer reserved one page of her website to honor Kris. Friends’ and family members’ memories lie next to pictures of Stonesifer’s handsome son. In a tribute written by Ruth, she shares that “[Kris] walked very softly on this earth, but his impact on my life is beyond words.”
“The website was the idea of my significant other.” Stonesifer shares. “He believed that some people wanted a place to honor their relatives. This gives the people of PA a voice.”
Stonesifer insists that her son would shy away from all the attention. “Kris would be laughing up his sleeve. He didn’t like attention. I was really doing this for the Gold Star families. We need to band together and support one another.”
Pennsylvania is proudly honoring veterans more than a decade after its first banner began waving in the breeze. Whether silently scrolling on Stonesifer’s website or waving on a banner above their hometown, the faces of Pennsylvania’s Hometown Heroes will never be forgotten.