Gold Star sibling among those involved in Mahomet church’s living-flag ceremony

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MAHOMET — Marlene Van Matre had a personal reason why she wanted to be involved with the living-flag performances at Mahomet Christian Church that honor military veterans.

She is a Gold Star sibling — an immediate family member of a service member who died while serving in a time of conflict.

Van Matre’s brother, Mike Flood, was a combat medic who was killed by a sniper April 4, 1969, in Vietnam.

“I wanted to be involved,” Van Matre said. “My husband (Dave) and I wanted to give back to our veterans.”

The living-flag ceremony — where 30 singers perform a musical program from atop a scaffolding decorated to look like an American flag — is one of the area’s most unique salutes to military veterans. It returns for its 18th year this weekend at the Mahomet church.

There will also be a speaker and refreshments.

The living-flag ceremony was the brainchild of David Johnson, a former pastor of the church who passed away last year. He had similar productions at another church in Oklahoma.

Mahomet Christian was determined to carry on with the tradition this year despite his loss.

Cathy Menacher stepped forward to serve as program coordinator — a big job.

Her husband, Jay, whose father, Harold, is a Korean War veteran, also helps.

“There’s a lot of moving parts,” Cathy said. “It’s getting the scaffolding, getting crews together as far as lights, sound, flag bearers, selecting the music, planning the reception and finding a speaker.”

This will be Menacher’s second year coordinating the program, and it has been a little easier due to her prior experience.

Planning started in March, and the singers had their first rehearsal in late August, with subsequent rehearsals every Sunday afternoon.

Menacher said the church tries to have different music every year, but she said it has become challenging because there are fewer songwriters writing musicals geared toward patriotic themes.

“It’s a patriotic musical, but it’s also a faith-based program,” she said. “We honor God. We honor veterans.”

Music director Stephenie Graham said it takes about a day to build the 16-by-24-foot scaffolding on which the singers stand.

“The night of the program, we populate it with people, and we also have a main speaker and flag bearers,” Graham said. “It’s a very patriotic pageant type of thing where we celebrate the veterans and honor them.”

The program lasts about 75 minutes.

The program has been ongoing for nearly two decades — except for one year missed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have had a variety of main speakers (like) decorated soldiers and a variety of people like the head of Lincoln’s Challenge, different military folks,” Graham said.

All area military veterans are welcome to attend. Graham encouraged the public to come out.

“It’s just what we can do as a church family to come together and say, ‘Thank you,’” Graham said.

This year’s theme is “God Bless America.”

Brian Ziefang, a Marine veteran and executive director of Jesus is the Way Prison Ministry, will give a message.

Performances are scheduled for 7 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday at the church, 909 N. Lake of the Woods Road.

Refreshments will be served, and an offering will be taken for Moraine View R&R Veterans Retreat.

Moraine View is a fellowship retreat devoted to physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strengthening through education and therapy, providing resilience to our nation’s veterans.

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