MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
When former U.S. Army Sgt. Chris Heisler was gifted the Honor Flag by the Texas House of Representatives following the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center buildings in New York, he had not quite realized the adventure that awaited him.
7 million miles and still traveling—this American flag’s journey spans land, sea, and space. It tells the story of patriotism, leads the way with pride, and honors those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“Putting my time in was something I just became accustomed to as a way to show respect for the uniformed personnel who lost their lives in the line of duty,” said Heisler.
The Honor Flag’s story began when Heisler traveled to New York to attend funeral services and memorials for the first responders lost in the 9/11 attacks. Heisler’s original intention was to present the flag to the widow of a police officer during their funeral service, thus ending the Honor Flag’s journey.
“Upon handing the widow the flag, she requested that I hold onto the Honor Flag and cherish it for what it meant and what it represented,” said Heisler.
Heisler stated that he has personally traveled with the flag for most of its’ journey, with the exception of the flag’s presence on Space Shuttle Atlantis and the International Space Station in 2011 for NASA’s final shuttle mission. Heisler was spending over $70,000 on travel expenses each year in order to deliver the flag for ceremonies and presentations. To alleviate the costs, Heisler and his wife, Cynthia, a retired police officer, purchased a truck and trailer to hit the road on their own when satisfying requests for the flag. When the Heisler’s are not on the road travelling, they stick close to family in Tampa by residing at the FAMCAMP Annex on MacDill.
Much like many other patriotic Americans, Heisler was motivated to volunteer for a greater cause following the 9/11 attacks and decided to enlist in the Army at 34 years old. It didn’t take long before Heisler found himself serving overseas.
“When I deployed to Iraq in 2003, I brought the Honor Flag along with me,” said Heisler. “I was there 11 months and 18 days before injury caused by an exploding mortar round landed me in the hospital.”
While in the hospital, Heisler received a request to present the Honor Flag at the memorial for three police officers who died in the line of duty in Midland, Texas. Given his medical state, Heisler could not physically fly back to the U.S. for the services, and allowed the flag to be transported to Midland under special care.
The Honor Network, which Heisler founded to manage the operating functions of requests and use of the Honor Flag, takes pride in caring for the Honor Flag and is particular about its use in memorials and ceremonies. Exclusivity is maintained in the handling of the flag, only current or former uniformed personnel are allowed to hold the flag. When handling the flag, it must be carried firmly pressed to the body, as seen in Honor Guard presentations. Lastly, every person who carries the flag must wear clean, white gloves provided by The Honor Network.
After spending 20 years in the line of duty, Cynthia cherishes the experience of honoring those who gave their lives working for a greater cause.
“It’s incredible honoring the heroes who serve with a passion for helping others,” Cynthia said. “It’s a dream come true to honor the lost family members, the flag represents the sacrifice of my brothers and sisters who will be remembered for doing what they love.”
Mr. and Mrs. Heisler maintain a busy schedule thanks to the constant travel they do with the Honor Flag, but aim to ensure its presence is available to memorialize lost personnel.
“We get more requests for the flag than we can keep up with,” said Heisler. “I feel this flag represents the true spirit of patriotism and I intend on keeping it moving as long as I can.”