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At Black Hearts Chainsaw Art, our Active Duty Service Members and Veterans hold a special place in our heart. We have had the privilege and honor of being asked to carve a number of different pieces in support of our military, their families, and the sacrifies both have made. While our Unit plaques are popular and fill us with pride when we carve them - our Battle Crosses are the most humbling. Our hand carved Battle Crosses Sculptures (Soldiers Memorial) have roughly 100 hours or more of hand carving time in each of them in order to ensure the most accurate portrayal as possible and can be personalized to match the era in which they represent (WWI, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam, Golf War, etc.).
The story and inspiration behind the original design of our first relief carved Battle Cross with the American Flag draped in the background shows the unique bond between Veterans and the community that proudly stand behind them.
In the fall of 2016, Gered and I learned that a fellow Combat Veteran, Chad Paxton, with whom Gered had served with while assigned to the 101st out of Ft. Campbell had been diagnosed with Bile Duct Cancer - Chad was also a single father of three.
Learning of Chad's condition, we wanted to do something in order to help relieve a small portion of the financial stress that he was feeling. We decided to come up with a unique design that we could auction off - with 100% of the proceeds going to Chad and his family.
We went through several ideas before settling on the final design - a 3ft relief carved wall plaque featuring a hand carved Battle Cross (Soldier's Memorial) with the American Flag draped in the background. We also spent over a month of late nights working on this piece after coming in from long days of working on our regular commissioned orders (it had also been during the holidays so our order load was high) but in the end, we couldnt have been more proud of the end results.
Unfortunately, the morning of the auction, Chad's mom had contacted us to let us know of his passing in the early hours of the morning. He had able to spend his final days with his mom, children, and loved ones - she also wanted to let us know that he had been able to see the completed carving the night before he had passed away and how much it meant to them both.
The auction continued as planned and ended in a huge success - with Chad's passing, 100% of the funds raised went to Chad's mom and his three children. Elizabeth had been Chad's primary caregiver before passing and had become his children's caregiver after he passed away.
None of this would have been possible had it not been for the amazing support of a community of strangers who came together in an effort to support a family in their time of need.
To make the end of the auction even more special - the highest bidder and winner of the auction is a member of the cherished Gold Star Family - his brother Jesse was a LCPL in the Marines, who was tragically killed during the terrorist attack in Beirut, Lebanon on October 23, 1983. I don't think there could have been a winner more fitted for this piece than Gary.
The inspiration behind this piece can be found in the journey of Brother Roger (then PFC Gill) and K-9 Fritz and their military service during Vietnam.
In the spring of 2016, we received a special call from an individual who had a major impact on Gered while serving together in the Army, Lonny Hayes. Hayes would serve as Gered's PL/PLT Sgt (who would then later serve as their First Sgt) during one of their deployments to the Middle East.
In Gereds eyes, Hayes would become the epitome of a leader - to this day if you ask Gered the people who have had the most influence on him in his life, Hayes will be on the top of a very short list. All of the guys that served during this deployment, and many to follow, would ultimately develop a special bound that very few will ever have the chance to experience or understand.
So, when we received a phone call from Hayes last spring inquiring about having a gift made for a very special and influential person in his own life (Brother Roger is a key figure in Lonny and Melissa's church), we were honored to have been thought of. Then we heard Brother Rogers own story, turning the honor of being thought of by a close friend to a privilege to be a part of a heartfelt tribute to a Vietnam War Veteran. While Hayes had initially asked for something small interlinking the Sentry Dogs and Fritz to present to Brother Roger - Gered and I had something else in mind and youll understand why after reading Brother Roger's story.
PFC Roger Gill served in the Army as a K-9 handler with the Sentry Dogs in Vietnam from 1967 to 1968. During his time in service as a handler, he developed a special bond with his K-9 Fritz, a bond that many will never have the honor of experiencing.
Their relationship went beyond working, as they would begin to rely on each other to get through some of the longest and most difficult of days - we all know the love our own pets share and how they have the ability to lift you up even during the most difficult of times. Now, imagine being in a war zone, depending on each other to ensure you both are able to make it back from your patrol alive, and having a K-9 who has not only saved your own life but has saved the lives of those around you on several different occasions. These very special K-9's are just as heroic as our soldiers by not only having the ability to save lives by their heightened training and skills but due to their natural ability to provide the love and support many soldiers need while in the heart of war.. They are a ray of light during the darkest of days.
When PFC Gill was slotted to return home from Vietnam in 1968 after a years tour, he was forced to say good-bye to his K-9 Fritz. During this time frame, the United States saw these animals as nothing more than equipment and no matter how hard these soldiers tried, even offering to pay for their return to the United States, the government would not bring these amazing K-9's home as they deserved but ultimately left them behind. Today, only recently, our government now sees the value in these animals, not only as key assets to our military but for their capabilities, their value (beyond monetary), and the importance of honoring their service and sacrifices after these dogs have gallantly served our nation, right along side their soldiers.
So, in the fall of 1968, when PFC Gill was set to return stateside, after much effort to bring Fritz home alongside him, he was forced to leave his best friend behind in a foreign and war torn country. Fritz would be left in the possession of the Vietnamese and his memory and the heart ache of leaving him behind would haunt PFC Gill, now Brother Roger, all these years later. Not until recently has Brother Roger been able to reach out in an effort to obtain information about what happened to Fritz upon PFC Gill's departure from Vietnam through an organization who has gathered service records of these heroic animals in an effort to ease the minds of those who were forced to leave them behind.
With all this in mind, hours and hours of research over the history of these special K-9 hero's, the Sentry Dogs, and the Vietnam war - we finally came up with the design for a piece that we felt would truly honor not only Brother Gill and Fritz's service to our nation but to show the unique bond between two soldiers - both two and four legged.
Service Flag History
By: Blue Star Mothers
The Service flag is an official banner authorized by the Department of Defense for display by families who have members serving in the Armed Forces during any period of war or hostilities the
United States may be engaged in for the duration of such hostilities.
The Service flag, also called the Blue Star Flag, was designed and patented by WWI Army Captain Robert L. Queisser of the 5th Ohio Infantry who had two sons serving on the front line. The flag quickly became the unofficial symbol of a child in service. President Wilson became part of this history when in 1918 he approved a suggestion made by the Women's Committee of the Council of National Defenses that mothers who had lost a child serving in the war wear a gold gilt star on the traditional black mourning arm band. This led to the tradition of covering the blue star with a gold star on the Service flag to indicate that the service member has died.
During WWII the practice of displaying the Service flag became much more widespread. Most flags were hand made by mothers across the nation. One of the most famous flags was that of the five Sullivan brothers who all perished on the U.S.S. Juneau.
The Blue Star Mothers was founded as a Veteran Service Organization and was part of a movement to provide care packages to military members serving overseas and also provided assistance to families who encountered hardships as a result of their son or husband serving in the war.
In 1960 Congress chartered the Blue Star Mothers of America as a Veterans Service Organization and in 1966, the Department of Defense revised the specifications for design, manufacture and display of the Service flag.
The Department of Defense specifies that family members authorized to display the flag include the wife, husband, mother, father, stepmother or father, parent through adoption, foster parents, children, stepchildren, children through adoption, brothers, sisters and half brothers or sisters of a member of the Armed Forces of the United States. The flag should be displayed in a window of the residence of persons authorized.
The Service flag may also be displayed by an organization to honor the members of that organization serving during a period of war or hostilities.
The Service Flag is an indoor flag and should be flown facing out from the front window of the home or organization.
If the U.S. flag is also displayed with the Service flag, the U.S. flag should be of equal or greater proportions and should take the place of honor above the Service flag.
Each blue star on the flag represents a service member in active duty. A gold star is displayed if a service member is killed in action or dies in service. If several stars are displayed by one family the gold star takes the honor of being placed at the top. The gold star should be slightly smaller than the blue star to create a blue border surrounding the gold star.