WESTFIELD — Memorial Day will mean something much more this year for a neighborhood in Westfield. Row after row of American flags fills a Westfield neighborhood.
“Obviously a huge part of what we do here too is build community spirit,” Phil Havlik, with the Kiwanis Club of Westfield said. “But really it’s also about celebrating the men and women in our military.”
The flags are from the Kiwanis Club of Westfield, which works to support local organizations and youth assistance programs. One of their fundraising programs called “Avenue of Flags” uses the proceeds from flag purchases to go right back into the community, while also honoring our servicemen and women.
“It just was really great that everyone was willing to participate,” Laura Yonkus, who lives in the neighborhood said.
A couple months ago, a veteran who lives in the neighborhood discovered the group and asked his neighbors to buy a flag too.
“It’s been amazing to see the neighborhood rally around him and do exactly what he would’ve wanted,” Katie Barnes said.
But just weeks after making that request of his neighbors, Jeremy Barnes, 38, took his own life.
“When Jeremy passed away unexpectedly I just felt compelled to do something for them,” Yonkus said. “Especially for Katie to show her that her neighborhood community was here for her.”
A man who loved his country, always wanted to help people and make them happy, his wife Katie Barnes said Jeremy lost his battle with mental illness.
“If we could just normalize talking about mental health, if you’re struggling get help, if you’re in a situation with somebody that is struggling, talk about it, talk about it with other people,” Barnes said.
At the time, there were just four flags in the Viking Meadows neighborhood. To honor him, neighbors rallied together, and now there are 121 flags placed in people’s front yards -- a true avenue of flags.
“When they put the flag in our house last night they saluted our house and it was just a very overwhelming moment,” Barnes said.
This neighborhood is paying their respects to him and all the veterans who too often struggle in silence.
“I think sometimes our military and veterans are forgotten about and especially the struggles they have when they return back to their normal lives,” Yonkus explained. “So if there’s anyway you can bring any attention to helping them even one person then I felt like it was worth it to do something.”