Gail Joyce is widely known around Hood County as “the flag lady,” as she was the driving force behind the creation of the Field of Flags ceremony in 2012 — a way to honor military veterans and first responders every Memorial Day.
To celebrate the ceremony’s 10th anniversary, Joyce came up with a bigger and bolder way to honor our beloved soldiers who fought a brave fight.
Upon seeing banners that featured military veterans in Normandy, France and the Taylor County Courthouse in Abilene, Joyce knew that a banner program would be the perfect way to recognize our heroes this Memorial Day.
“I thought, ‘That’s just wonderful. This would be absolutely great for Granbury.’ I could (picture) all these banners hanging on the poles around the square and in the city,” she said.
Through the Honoring Hometown Heroes Banner Program, each banner is 18 by 36 inches, double-sided on durable vinyl. They include a photo of the hero with their name, rank and service.
Hero banners cost $150 and are expected to last approximately three years. Banners ordered before April 15 will be displayed during Memorial Day weekend at the former Field of Flags location — on Highway 377, near FM 4 — although banners can still be ordered after April 15, for use in future holidays.
The Memorial Day Weekend Remembrance & Honor event will have its Memorial Day service on Monday, May 30, at 2 p.m., and will include a Military Officers Association of America Pecan Pilot Flyover, a bagpipe tribute, Marine Corps JROTC honor guard, local singers, and the laying of the wreath by a Gold Star Father and a Gold Star Mother (parents whose child died while serving in the military).
GOLD STAR MOTHER
Joyce herself has been a Gold Star Mother for almost 30 years ever since her son and U.S. Army Ranger, Sgt. James “Casey” Joyce, was killed in action on Oct. 3, 1993, in Mogadishu, Somalia. He was one of 18 American soldiers who were killed during the battle of Mogadishu. The 2001 award-winning film, “Black Hawk Down,” was based on the events of Casey and his crew’s plight in Somalia.
“It's a pretty good movie and it's pretty true,” Joyce said, mentioning a scene where the soldiers were fast-roping out of a helicopter, but a 19-year-old soldier missed the rope and fell 70 feet, leading to a serious injury for the young comrade.
Casey took charge and organized a team to help get the teen to safety, running and shooting while carrying a stretcher holding the teen. Later, realizing he was putting his injured comrade in more danger, Casey left to find transportation that could pick up the teen and take him to safety.
During the first showing of the movie at Fort Benning, Georgia, Joyce actually ran into the young soldier that Casey had saved all those years ago.
"He said, ‘You know I thank you so much for your son's life and I wouldn't be here if it were not for Casey,’” Joyce said. “He told me, ‘There's somebody here that I want you to meet.’ He has this little girl with him and he said, ‘This is my daughter, Casey.’ It was so special."
Last October, Casey — along with the other Army Rangers who were awarded Bronze Star Medals with the “V” device for valor — was awarded a Silver Star, which is the United States Armed Forces third-highest military decoration for valor in combat.
Joyce said the VFW in Plano named after Casey that had closed down due to financial issues is also back open.
“I never expected to see that happen,” Joyce said. “It’s just one of those nice, little things that just keep on happening. I was thrilled that they had been so dedicated all these years, because they’ve been shut down for about five years now.”
Another unexpected surprise came when Joyce had cable issues and two men came to fix the problem. One of them kept peering closely at the pictures and realized he knew one of the Rangers who had trained with Casey in their unit.
“He gets his phone out, dials and calls Mike (the Ranger who had trained with Casey) and said, ‘I’ve got somebody that you need to talk to.’ Crazy stuff like that happens,” Joyce said.
MEANT TO BE
Life works in mysterious ways, with events happening almost as if they were meant to be — which exactly describes Joyce’s relationship with her late husband, Larry.
Joyce grew up in Abilene and attended both Texas Tech University and Hardin-Simmons University. One summer, the Abilene community theater was putting on a melodrama and Joyce was in charge of the olio acts (short dances or songs performed after a dramatic play).
Two guys continued to show up at rehearsal and Joyce asked them, “Are you a couple of backstage Johnnys?” The pair replied, “No, we’re backstage Larrys,” as their names were both Larry.
“As it turned out, one of those Larrys I married,” Joyce said, chuckling. “Larry called me one time in November over Thanksgiving holiday, asking for a date. Then in December, he asked me to marry him and then we got married in April.”
Larry was a former career Army officer who served two tours in Vietnam. He was also a retired vice president of the American Heart Association’s Office of Communications at the National Center in Dallas.
TAKING A STAND
Following Casey’s death in 1993, Larry was frustrated and angry at former President Bill Clinton for what had happened in Somalia.
“After that, nothing was ever really the same for us,” Joyce said. “Larry, he’d go to work and in the scheme of things, it just simply did not matter to him anymore.”
Larry gained national recognition when he took on Clinton Administration officials, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee and appearing on every national news magazine at the time.
Joyce said when she and Larry along with Casey’s wife, DeAnna, met with Clinton, no pictures were taken so there isn’t any physical evidence of the meeting. Joyce said that Clinton listened to their story, but called the 18 veterans who lost their lives that day, “unfortunate losses,” which DeAnna was not happy about.
“She said, ‘I want you to see what one of your unfortunate losses is and the next time you send someone into battle, you need to be aware of the fact that they’re somebody's son, somebody's daughter, somebody's husband, somebody’s brother. You need to always remember that and here's this picture of Casey so you'll remember,’” Joyce said.
On April 30, 1999, Larry passed away after a lengthy battle with leukemia, which spurred Joyce into founding the MOAA Greater Granbury Chapter and serving as a surviving spouse liaison. Joyce also currently serves on the MOAA Board of Directors.
As a surviving spouse representative, Joyce has spoken on behalf of local, state and national organizations about life in the military, her son and husband's service to the country, as well as lending advice on surviving spouse issues.
Joyce is excited to start a new way to honor military veterans and first responders with the banner program.
“The more people we told about it, the more excitement there was,” she said.
Although the deadline has already passed for getting a banner placed for Memorial Day, Joyce said the organization will continue to accept banner orders throughout the year as members of the organization would like to have them displayed through Veterans Day on Nov. 11.
After Memorial Day, the banners will be moved to various approved locations throughout Hood County.
All profits will go directly to support Granbury’s own Marine Corps JROTC as well as veterans and their families in need of assistance.
“We are really excited about this banner program,” Joyce added. “And you know what? Actually, the amazing thing is how excited people are that don't even know anything about it. Everybody we talked to either as a group or an individual are really excited about this program. It's a happy program. We're starting out small and we want to see it grow. We'll be doing it for Memorial Day and we just hope it keeps getting bigger and bigger and eventually you'll be seeing banners on poles.”
For more information, visit honoringhometownheroes.org for links to complete forms and payment online. You can also fill out a form and send a check to Greater Granbury MOAA Foundation P.O. Box 160 Granbury, TX 76048. Please list the honoree name in the memo line.