Some people say life is all about being in the right place at the right time. This was certainly true for Edward (Ed) O’Brien in 2012. He was working on a job in Brockport when he noticed the banners being displayed around the town. These banners, honoring local military heroes, deeply inspired O’Brien, so he reached out to a police officer he knew to ask about them. The officer explained how the Hometown Hero Banners program worked, and O’Brien quickly started his own Hometown Hero Banners program for Honeoye Falls, Lima and Mendon.
“I geared it around the school system,” said Ed. “We honor current active service members of the U.S. Military who have graduated from Honeoye Falls-Lima Central School District or whose families reside in Honeoye Falls, Lima or Mendon.” O’Brien decided focus on the young men and women currently serving.
Hometown Hero Banners is free to participating families and is funded through donations. “I do it the old-fashioned, hard way,” Ed stated. “I go around knocking on doors, so to speak, but it has been working because I have lasted since 2012!” Families with active military members who either reside in the three local communities or graduated from the school system are eligible to have a banner honoring their loved one displayed in town, starting around Memorial Day and ending around Veteran’s Day each year.
“They fill out an application,” Ed explained. “I ask for a reasonable size photograph because I have to enlarge it for that 6’ banner.” O’Brien also negotiated with Honeoye Falls, Lima and Mendon so that it would not impact the town financially. “The towns agreed to put them up around Memorial Day because that is when they take their own banners down and do maintenance on them,” he said. “As the cold weather moves in around Veteran’s Day or so, they take the Hometown Hero Banners down as they put up whatever they like for that season. They all agreed to do it right away.”
O’Brien feels this is a way to serve the people and the community for which he cares so much. Having moved to the Rochester area in the 70’s, O’Brien and his family have lived in the Village of Honeoye Falls for nearly 40 years. “We have been here a while,” said Ed. “I prefer the small-town, country-like setting here.”
For a great portion of his life, Ed O’Brien worked as a fire alarm life safety technician. He retired when he suddenly received a cancer diagnosis four years ago. “There was no warning sign,” Ed recalled. “It just happened. I am two years into remission now, and I feel good.” However, O’Brien traces his inspiration to bring back Hometown Hero Banners to his own family.
“My two sons, Shaun and Kade, joined the Marines in 2004,” Ed said. “They were in Iraq very early, and Kade was stationed at Fallujah which was just a terrible place. At the same time, I joined the Patriot Guard Riders, escorting military funerals on our motorcycles. I think these two things pushed me in to start Hometown Hero Banners here for the younger men and women.”
Sadly, in 2011, Ed O’Brien’s younger son, Kade, was killed in a tragic accident when a vehicle made a left-turn in front of his motorcycle. “Kade is a very big, driving factor in this,” Ed said. “It made a big impact on my life, changed my whole thinking. He survived Fallujah and that horrible situation with people shooting at him, trying to kill him, and he died here when he went out for a motorcycle ride.” O’Brien explained that his wife, Deb Milne-O’Brien, started The Kade Project in their son’s memory. The Kade Project helps gather care package donations and send them to deployed troops, and it also helps people in need locally. “We do not have that big name out there,” added Ed. “We are a little bit more local.”
O’Brien’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. “The families generally appreciate it,” Ed shared. “They really like to see their son or daughter being represented in this way.” O’Brien added that every year, people ask after the banners, how they are coming along and when they will be going up. When a hometown hero completes military service, their families receive their loved one’s banner as a gift from the community.
The banners are catching on in other communities, as well. “We have assisted the communities of Avon, Dansville, Middlesex and Rush in creating similar programs,” Ed said. “People passing through see them and contact me. A lady from a larger Pennsylvania community even contacted me to start one there.” For Ed O’Brien, however, the cause will always be much closer to home.
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