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Dozens of flags line Main Street for annual Eau Claire veteran tribute

EAU CLAIRE, Mich. -- What started with 19 flags in 1991 has turned into 144 flags lining the heart of one of Berrien County’s tiniest villages each year on Memorial Day Weekend.

“My dad was in World War I. My brother was in Vietnam. And it’s because of how my brother was treated when he come home from Vietnam that you don’t want that to happen to everybody else,” said Jo Herman. “You just don’t.”

Herman and her husband started hanging American flags along Main Street in Eau Claire 27 years ago.

The tradition started when a group of customers Herman had at a local Harding's grocery store asked her for help to cope with their kids fighting overseas in Desert Storm.

A local lumber company donated 19 flags to the group – one for each local soldier.

Nearly 30 years later, just about every utility pole in town becomes home to three flags each Memorial Day, staying on display through Veteran’s Day in November.

Herman said the community has continued to be invested over the years.

“This year we had three that was empty – that a gal pulled out,” she said. “And a guy come up afterwards and he says, ‘I want to get some flags cause I don’t want that pole empty.’”

Loved ones honor their own by sponsoring plaques on each pole, in addition to the flags.

And smaller white flags fly next to some of the American flags in honor of local active and veteran military members.

Herman said she thought the program would end when Desert Storm did, but she was proven wrong.

With the village’s Veteran’s Park standing guard right off Main Street, this tiny town continues to send a message that Herman preaches to local students she speaks with about veterans.

“Where would we be without them? Just think about it,” she said. “That’s one thing that we try to emphasize to kids is – these people are very, very special. They’ve taken two years, three years, four years – given up their lives for us to have freedom so we can be like we are today.”

On Veteran’s Day each year, Herman and her volunteer organization – Southwest Michigan Veteran’s Support Group – host a big dinner event at Eau Claire High School that hundreds of veterans from 11 different states come to.

In addition to that event and the flags on Main Street, Herman works with students from 15 area schools to write almost 3,000 letters to veterans each year on various holidays.

To learn more about the group, or to sponsor a flag for your loved one, you can click here or contact Herman at 269-876-1738.

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