Thursday, September 15, 2011

Let's recognize our hometown heroes

By Bob Confer

If you haven’t driven through Brockport this summer you’ve missed quite a sight. The light posts and electrical poles throughout the village and along Route 104 are adorned with Hometown Heroes banners. Each one recognizes someone from the 14420 zip code who is actively serving in the military. The attractive banners are 72 inches tall and about half as wide and each one is adorned with a large photo of the serviceman/woman along with his or her name and branch.

The first time I saw them I was awestruck. It was awesome to finally see our brave warriors get the recognition they deserve 24/7, not just during Veterans Day when most Americans seem to develop a sense of appreciation – and temporarily at that – for the sacrifices these souls can and do make every single day when stationed in far off lands.

It was good, as well, to see each person singularly recognized. We so often hear how it is an “Army of One” or about how the collective is more important than the individual. But, let’s get real: It’s the individual who makes the collective and it’s the individual who commits acts of heroism to save a comrade, protect an innocent, or preserve our national integrity. Were it not for the accomplishments of one man in war– fighting for the common cause or the goal of the moment – our armed forces wouldn’t be the greatest on Earth. And, neither would our nation. So, it’s incredibly important to recognize the man, the woman who has volunteered to maintain the American spirit.

We need more communities to follow Brockport’s example. Many local towns and cities (Niagara Falls first comes to mind) think nothing of putting up banners and more for their hometown football and basketball heroes. So, why not do it for the real heroes, those whose adventures play out on a battlefield, not on a football field or basketball court?

If we did, more folks would gain an appreciation for - and better understanding of - the commitment of our armed forces.

Most people have for some time been indifferent to the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and occupations. They see the political football between the Democrats and Republicans. They hear of the death toll on the evening news. They occasionally read of the deployments of local units. But, they are numb to the reality of it all. As it’s commonly said, they don’t have any skin in the game. Without the draft hanging out there and without a dear friend or loved one in the military, they don’t seem to be emotionally invested in what theatre our men and women are thrown into.

These banners would, like they have done in Brockport, fix that disconnect, by showing that that a classmate or the neighborhood Eagle Scout or the local church’s altar boy is now overseas. Most Americans don’t realize how close to home the sacrifice of mind, limb, and life can be. They seem oblivious to the fact that those being sent to war were raised right here in our community. They went to our schools, churches, restaurants and markets. Now, they’re out there protecting that community and similar ones around the country and around the world. The signs would help alter perception, develop an appreciation for the commitment of war, instill patriotism and, who knows, maybe even spur some volunteerism.

Brockport’s banners were created and installed by a team effort that featured its local veterans organizations, town and village officials, military parents, private businesses and dedicated citizens. The question is, how do we nurture similar involvement here and ultimately recognize the hometown heroes in the villages, hamlets and cities across Niagara and Orleans counties?

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at


This column originally ran in the 19 September 2011 Greater Niagara Newspapers

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