Soldiers & Sailors fills lawn with flags to honor veterans


Nate Yonamine | Staff Photographer

American flags decorate the lawn of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum on Fifth Avenue.

By Madilyn Cianci, Staff Writer

During this year’s “Fill the Hill” event at Soldier & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum, Michael Evanish sponsored six flags on the front lawn to honor veterans in his life. They were in memory of his father, who was a World War II veteran, two military colleagues and his brother, as well as his uncle, who was killed in action during the Korean War at 19 years old. 

While Evanish, manager of safety and security at the museum, never had the chance to meet his uncle, he learned about him through his mom’s and aunt’s memories. He decided the flag was a good tribute because of “what they went through as a family.” 

While Soldiers & Sailors started selling flags in October, the nearly 100 flags will continue waving throughout November in honor of Veterans Day on Nov. 11. People can purchase a flag for $20 on the Soldiers & Sailors website through the end of the month. 

The event offers a “Gold Donor” option for $100, which includes six flags for the price of five. Evanish chose this option, adding an unconventional tribute for his sixth flag. Evanish served for 23 years in the U.S. Coast Guard between 1991 and 2014, including Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. 

“As a dog lover and owner, after having done research on what service dogs do, bomb-sniffing dogs in Afghanistan and Iraq, I bought the sixth flag to honor all service dogs,” Evanish said. 

Lisa Petitta, collections manager for Soldiers & Sailors, came up with the idea to “fill the hill” after finding “tons of small flags” in the basement of the museum. 

“I knew there was something we could do with them,” Petitta said. “I went to my boss to tell him about the idea and he loved it.”

She saw the flags as a great fundraising opportunity, and a way to visually assure veterans in the community that their service is respected and honored. Soldiers & Sailors launched the project three years ago and Petitta said it “has stayed a success throughout the years.” 

Petitta said employees commonly say “every day is Veterans Day” at Soldiers & Sailors. The funds raised from Fill the Hill helps the memorial to fulfill the mission of honoring those who serve. 

According to Tim Neff, vice president and director of museum and education at Soldiers & Sailors, the funds raised for the flags go to “keeping the memorial alive.”

“Our job is to take these stories of men and women who served and find ways to preserve and share them,” Neff said. “But this is a special moment where we can take that outside the building.” 

In 2021, more than 600,000 veterans lived in Pennsylvania — making it the fourth-highest state in the country in terms of veteran population. Neff said this highlights the reason why Soldiers & Sailors is “so significant to the community.”

Evanish said he loves Fill the Hill because it conjures up a general feeling of honor and respect toward service to the country.

“I love the fact that it’s just so visual,” Evanish said. “It carries on the tradition because it can get in the hearts and the minds of people. Especially being smack dab in the middle of your campus.” 

Evanish said Fill the Hill prompts students walking by to ask veterans questions or stop by the museum “when otherwise they might not.”

“It’s a good way to get the attention of the future generations who will serve this country,” Evanish said. “Not even in the military, but the next generation of elected officials and leaders. It gives them a chance to gain appreciation for military service.”