It started by simply looking beyond borders to what other communities were doing to honor their veterans, Town of Hartland Historian Norm LaJoie said. That and a whole lot of luck.
After watching Medina launch its Hometown Heroes banner program in which the names and photos of local veterans were printed on banners and hung from street posts and then see the Village of Middleport follow suit, LaJoie discussed the possibility of a Hartland Homeland Heroes program with Audrey Jones, a member of the recreation committee, starting in the summer of 2019.
“Going back about three or four years ago, Medina put theirs up and had a public viewing in the school,” LaJoie said. “They had everyone who had a banner were invited to bring their families and the public came, and I understand it was quite emotional. The Village of Middleport did theirs about a year ago, but they weren’t allowed to do anything like that because of Covid. They could do nothing public. When we decided to do ours, we wanted to do something. We couldn’t invite the public, but we invited the families of each soldier.”
The influx of COVID-19 made the entire endeavor a little shaky, said LaJoie. Having scheduled viewings in Hartland Town Hall, he said the banners had not even arrived yet and he had to cross his fingers that everything would run smoothly. As it was, the banners did arrive and will be set up along Ridge Road in the reduced speed zones near Hartland Corners and Johnson Creek.
“It’s been kind of emotional for some families,” he said. “I had one person say yesterday that it had been 16 years ago to the day that his father died. So it’s been pretty emotional, there’s been some tears.”
While LaJoie is certain that there are more than 78 veterans and soldiers from Hartland, he said the limited amount of telephone poles dictated how many banners would be made. Registration for the program began in October.
LaJoie, himself, has a banner for his service during the Vietnam War. He was drafted as a married man during the war.
“They didn’t draft married men through most of the war,” he explained. “But they got to the point where they needed more men, so they lowered the draft requirement and drafted married men. If you were married and had children, you weren’t drafted, but married men were. I got my draft notice and as soon as I got it, I went to the recruiter and asked, ‘What can I do?’ and he said, ‘Well, you can enlist in any of these different things.’ I enlisted in a missile system, that they did not use in Vietnam. So, that kept me out of the war.”
LaJoie said that two soldiers depicted fought in the Civil War, Isaiah Davis and John Boyd, and another named Chauncey McKee served during the War of 1812, though the photograph was taken much later than his service as photography hadn’t been invented yet. Soldiers from Hartland fought in many more wars, including Korea, World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Afghanistan and the Global War on Terror, as well as serving during peace time or are on active duty on this very day.
"My grandson has a banner. My grandson is in the Army right now," LaJoie said. "They can be current, or non-military, or retired. Some are older and have passed away. A lot of the World War II guys are gone. ... It's only a small percentage of people that could be represented who are actually here."