The Haverhill Exchange Club is planning something special for this Memorial Day, when it unveils banners throughout the downtown and on the Basiliere and Comeau bridges honoring veterans and people currently serving in the military.
The club’s Hometown Heroes banner program is an initiative that communities across the country are using to showcase their support for the brave men and women who have served and serve their country and local communities, said Exchange Club President Thea Tsagaris.
“The banner program serves as a visual reminder of the sacrifice our hometown heroes past and present have and continue to make,” she said.
The Exchange Club is leading the banner installation in collaboration with the city of Haverhill, and with additional support from Veterans Services Officer Luis Santiago and the VFW and AmVets organizations.
“This endeavor should prove to be a tremendous source of pride and hope for all members of our community, especially at a time when we could all use a boost in morale,” Tsagaris said.
The banners are made of vinyl and measure 2 feet by 4 feet. They will hang vertically along Merrimack and Washington streets, in Washington Square, and on the Basiliere and Comeau bridges.
Each banner includes the image of the person honored, their name and a brief biography.
Banners cost $200 each. They are sold out.
“This began as a visual reminder of those who made and continue to make sacrifices for us,” said Exchange Club board member Jennifer Matthew. “Many of our sponsorships have come from families who want to honor someone who passed away and had served their country proudly, and from those who want to pay tribute to loved ones who served and are still with us, and those who are currently serving.”
About 60 sponsorships have been received by the Exchange Club so far, including from local businesses, community organizations and even current military service members who wanted to sponsor another service member.
“What’s really wonderful is that a lot of military people don’t want the recognition for themselves, but for their fellow brothers and sisters who serve or are serving alongside them,” Matthews said.
One of the people being honored with a banner is Purple Heart recipient John Katsaros, a World War II veteran who was a past president and long-time member of the Haverhill Kiwanis Club.
Katsaros, who died Jan. 9 at the age of 97, published a memoir in 2008 titled “Code Burgundy: The Long Escape.” His book chronicles his experience of being shot down over Reims, France, in a B-17 bomber, his capture by the Gestapo, his rescue by the French underground and eventual escape through Spain.
“We felt this would be an appropriate way to honor John following his passing by having his name and image remembered by the community though this banner program,” said Haverhill Kiwanis Club member Peter Carbone.
Matthews said the Exchange Club plans to have the banners installed in time for Memorial Day, with help from the city’s Public Works Department and Essex County Sheriff’s Department.
“We’re hoping to display the banners from Memorial Day to Veterans Day in November,” Tsagaris said, “and we hope this will be the start of an annual program and that it will grow.”
Matthews said people featured on the banners have profound stories of service, sacrifice and commitment.
“They include stories from several Haverhill Gold Star families of those killed in action from 1990 to the present,” she said.