On December 29, 2005, George Anthony Lutz II (Tony) was killed by a sniper’s bullet while he was on patrol in Fallujah, Iraq. His family and friends endured the shock, emotional agony and overwhelming loss that accompanied the news of Tony’s death, just like the many families who have suffered the same tragedy. Tony’s father, George, began a mission on how to Honor and Remember American service men and women who never made it home.
George Lutz (below) was in Sacramento Aug. 8,2010.
His story is told below his photo.George Lutz, founder of the Honor and Remember Flag speaks in Sacramento.
I recorded his words as he spoke to a group gathered at the All Wars Memorial at Capitol Park:
"This is an emotional thing for me to do this. I really am honored that you all are here, especially in a hallowed ground as remembering those service members from all other wars. Because, I think, appropriately, what this mission is about is reaching back to all wars as well as the present and beyond.
We’re going to honor one particular family today at the end of my message.
We’ve all heard the expression that freedom isn’t free. That became very real to me. Forgive me if I lose my composure. I’m not the marketing man. This is what’s a part of me.
What I share is my heart and why I read nothing. It comes from where I am.
That phrase ‘freedom isn’t free’ became very real to me on Dec. 30, 2005. I got a knock on the door from two uniformed soldiers who brought me those dreadful words – We regret to inform you that my son had been killed the day before by a sniper’s bullet in Fallujah, Iraq.
To use the term devastation isn’t a big enough of a word because the emotions of that moment and then what followed.
I thought to myself, first, certainly they’ve come to the wrong house. Or maybe he was wounded, and they just need to tell me I just need to go somewhere.
But of course that wasn’t the message. I was never going to see his face again. I’d never hear his voice and I thought to myself do I dare to live one more day? He was my best friend.
And I started to go through the processes of grief that many have gone through. But one of those processes took me on a different journey.
And that journey was a journey of remembering.
I began quickly to search the house for anything that could bring one more day of memory to me. Photographs, emails, videotapes. I’d fortunately videotaped his life from when he was a child until he was a teenager. So I tried to find those.
I found a scrap of paper that he’d written a grocery list on.
I found a couple of letters he’d actually written in basic training because they’re not allowed to use any electronic equipment, so he was forced to actually handwrite a letter.
I had that and it meant the world to me.
But you know that process comes to an end because there are only so many drawers you can open, so many closets you can open.
My son was married and had two children. He had a life of his own. He was 25 years old when he was killed. I thought to myself certainly his friends will have stories. So I would reach out and find out if there were any other pictures that I hadn’t seen, any stories they had so they could share his life to me.
That came to an end. And I realized, wait a minute, he was serving in the US Army and was training with his buddies. They would have stories.
So I went to them and tried to find out anything I could about how he served and how he did his job. Were they proud of him? What did he have for breakfast that morning?
I will tell you that those that were with him are not very forthcoming. It’s a very difficult thing for some who were with your son, or with your daughter or with your husband to come forward and face you.
At least not right away.
It’s not something you can pin your hat on in terms of happening.
Then I realized he died for his country.
And that’s the part that really started to stick with me.
Because you know we all walk around in freedom. Everyday.
We do whatever we want to do because of men and women that sign that blank check.Which the price is up to often losing their lives.
But very few people understand what that price really is. And what that price means.
But I wanted to know how America remembers. I began a search for that.
Because I wanted to embrace it. I wanted to hold onto it. I wanted to be comforted by it.
But I’ll tell you what I found in my search.
There are wonderful memorials like this (All Wars Memorial). My son’s name on a wall in San Francisco or in Richmond or in Illinois.
But they weren’t public symbols. Those were monuments built by veterans. Funded by veterans for veterans.
And I thought: the general public – how often are they gonna get to Washington, DC and see the Vietnam Wall or see the beautiful WWII memorial that was recently constructed?
I don’t know what percentage. Maybe 5% of the nation might get there? That wasn’t what I was looking for.
Then I kept seeing that phrase "Support our Troops" with the yellow ribbons. We probably have it on our cars.
I looked at that and I’ll tell you I have seven trees in front of my house and I have a yellow ribbon tied to every single one of them.
But, ya know, after he was killed, and this is my personal testimony, so I can’t speak for everyone else, but to tell you that when I saw that phrase after he was killed it meant nothing to me.
Because he was a troop, he was out there and I was supporting him and he didn’t come home.
And I thought to myself: where was his tribute?
Where was something that identified his sacrifice?
Because, yes we need to pray for the troops, we need to support the troops absolutely.
But there’s a total picture to that. The troops are ALL of them, whether they come home or are still out there. That is the collective group of troops.
And there was no message for the fallen.
I started to attend the funerals of those killed after my son.
Unfortunately, there’s many in the state of Virginia.
And as I began to speak to those families, I met other families from previous generations from Vietnam, from the Gulf, from Korea, from WWII. And I began to hear the same cry over and over from each one of those families.
The same thing continuously: Please don’t let this end up in vain. And please don’t let them be forgotten. Those were the only two things that I would ever hear.
And I thought about that long and hard.
Because the ‘in vain’ part brings a lot of hurt to a lot of people, especially from those wars that were unappreciated such as Vietnam, and Korea, the forgotten war. But then I realized that this country is still free.
This country, the greatest nation on earth is still providing help to other countries all over the world.
We still have not been conquered on our own soil.
And so the ‘in vain’ part became very clear to me. And I can answer that almost instantly.
As long as the American Flag flies freely above the land and above any soil on which it’s planted, no sacrifice will have been in vain.
Because the purity of what we do shines forth and don’t politicize that.
And I won’t let anyone politicize it.
And I’ll tell you that the parents and spouses that have lost so much over the years will tell you it makes no difference of how or where they were killed. At the end of the day, they’re not coming home. You can’t make politics out of that.
We all want to think and believe and be proud of our loved ones, regardless of that circumstance.
And as I was attending the funerals I would see the POW flag flying everywhere. There’s one here.
I would see the POW flag and I thought to myself: what an honor and wonderful tribute it was to have a flag for those captured and missing. That needed to be remembered.
And the government actually adopted this military symbol and made it a public symbol.
I thought to myself: there was nearly 57,000 that died in Vietnam. Where was their flag? Where was their tribute?
That became the precedent for my thought that the fallen need a flag. And why? Because if you look around at all the flags in this circle here there are flags for everything in this country. Everyone seems to have a flag, an emblem or icon that identifies them. Everybody.
We have a US Flag with 50 stars, yet every state has their own flag. That’s kind of arrogant, isn’t it?
Every branch of service has their own flag. Every ship in the Navy has their own flag. Every unit in the Army has their own flag with their symbol on it. Everybody has their own symbol that identifies who they are and what group they belong to.
My contention is that the only reason we can fly any of these flags is because of the men and women that have sacrificed their lives throughout history.
Why don’t they have a flag?
Why don’t they have a symbol that when we look at it we identify it with the price of freedom?
And that is why I’m here.
To introduce an Honor and Remember Flag.
On May 26, 2008, the Honor and Remember Flag was unveiled publicly to the nation.
It was established to be a national symbol of remembrance, recognizing all those who gave their lives and service to our country from the beginning of our country’s history to the present and the future.
The symbolism behind this flag came from military and universal icons and understanding.
I wanted it to be distinct, attractive and easily recognized and easily understood.
The red field of this flag stands for the sacrifice of blood shed – what better color than American-Flag red?
The white beneath that red signifies the purity of sacrifice because our men and women, each one of them, said to us "Don’t worry, I’ve got it covered. I’ll be back."
The blue star in the center, some of us may recognize as coming from a blue star banner from WWI, which was high on the windows and doors of families who had someone on active duty.
The gold star symbolizes that life was lost and not coming home. It’s where we got the term Gold Star father, Gold Star Mother.
Most people in the US don’t know what a Gold Star is, but they will.
The folded flag beneath the star stands for an individual life lost. A folded flag handed to a family at the memorial of their loved one.
The flames above it are an eternal reminder that we’ll never forget.
And the words below – we will always honor their sacrifice and remember them specially by name.
Because they are names. They are loved ones with family, extended families, friends and comrades. And they deserve to be remembered individually whenever possible and one of the things I realized was it’s not our nation’s fault in term or degrees of remembrance.
It’s the way we’ve been programmed. If you think about it, we support our troops everyday be when we lose someone our mind automatically goes – at least my mind went there – to Memorial Day. That’s the day we have to remember.
So it’s easy to go "Oh that’s right, it was so bad, so sorry" and then go on with our lives and we’ll remember on Memorial Day.
And what struck me is I never forget. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t remember.
And so I selfishly thought maybe I can get everybody else to remember too.
Maybe I can fly something so at least when they see it that the symbolism will come to them.
And so there’s a bill in Congress right now – HR1034 – for the US Congress to make this an officially recognized flag of the United States’ symbol of remembrance.
It took 18 years for the POW flag to become officially recognized, just to give you a little context there.
About a year ago, several states started to call me and said, "We don’t want to wait for Congress. We want to fly this flag now for our families."
And one by one they began to call me and by January 2010 I had six or eight states that were writing legislation. I thought this is a very slow process because I have just handful of people helping me. There’s no way of reaching out to the entire country without a journey.
I thought to myself: I’m going to step out and plan to reach all 50 states in a short amount of time. To bring this message where I can and as quickly as I can and to leave as many people knowledgeable as to what needs to be done and the importance of this in every state.
California is my 38th state.
I’ve travelled over 18,000 miles since June 7, 2010. I’ve been able to meet with Governors, Lt. Governors, Medal of Honor winners, Adjutant Generals and many many legislators.
And many many veterans and Gold Star families.
And in the 38 states I’ve been in I’ve gotten a commitment from every state that this flag will be flying.
I have 12 more states to go.
I will conclude this phase of the journey at Arlington Cemetery on Nov. 11, Veterans Day where many of our sons, daughters and
husbands and wives are buried.
I began at Dover Air Force Base where they come home.
And I will end where they are laid to rest."
The family of CPL Tony "TJ" Gonzales of Modesto, CA were presented the Honor and Remember Flag.
Tony Gonzales, Sr. holds a picture of his fallen son and his dogtags.
Keep track of George Lutz and the Honor and Remember Flag: www.honorandremember.org
SacPress Photos | Kati Garner