At a moving ceremony in Missoula on Thursday afternoon, 53 Green Star flags were retired to commemorate the 53 local veterans who took their own lives in 2017.

Outreach coordinator for the Missoula branch of RIVER (Rural Institute for Veterans Education and Research) Joshua Zaccheus Colson described the ceremony.

“There was a brief playing of taps for the one or two Green Star families who were there,” Colson said. “Then we had some veteran students do a flag folding ceremony and a presentation of those flags the families. The remaining flags are going to stay with us and we hop to do this on a yearly basis. Hopefully, as new evidence comes out, maybe at next year’s ceremony we can put up fewer crosses, and it could be a kudos to the community to see how we’re doing this year.”

Colson said 53 Green Star flags were posted outside the Garden City Funeral Home during the Christmas season to commemorate veterans’ suicides.

“It’s always been a huge issue here in Montana,” he said. “Per capita we’re the highest rate in the nation, and Missoula County has the highest suicide rate in the state so, it’s no claim to fame, but we’re kind of the veteran’s suicide capitol of the nation. For every flag…that’s a life. You let it sink in and that’s 53 lives. And what it’s done is to disturb people, and that’s what needs to happen.”

The green star denotes a family in which a veteran has committed suicide.

RIVER (Rural Institute for Veterans Education and Research), is located on Tina Avenue in Missoula. Get more information here.