"Every soldier deserves to go home."
A recent visit to a peddler’s market in Bardstown, Kentucky, left Katie Marks with an uneasy feeling and a burning sense of purpose.
"Sitting on top of this plastic shelf with other little trinkets was a flag with someone's name and a date and it definitely looked out of place," she recalled to WHAS11.
It was a folded American flag bearing a price tag: $45 to purchase a tribute to a fallen veteran. Marks felt sick.
"How do you attribute any kind of value to something like this to say, 'Okay, this is worth X amount of dollars. I'm going to try and make this money off it,'" she wondered.
The flag was issued in 2004 to the family of Samuel A. Steward, whom Marks later found out served in the Army.
"He passed when he was 40 years old," she said.
A few days later, Marks returned to the mall and bought the flag, and quickly went to work searching for Steward's family. After a few dead ends, she was finally able to get in touch the flag's owner, Steward’s nephew, who lives three hours away in Petersburg, Indiana.
The nephew revealed to Marks that his fiancé recently delivered a stillborn child. Mounting medical bills associated with the birth complications reportedly landed the family in a financial crisis, and they were forced to sell a storage unit where the flag was being kept.
"The storage unit that they had ended up being one of those that had to get pushed back to the side,” Marks told WHAS11. “The storage unit contained the flag along with birth certificates and old family photos, and they lost it.”
Now, Marks not only plans to drive to Petersburg to return the flag, she also wants to lend them a helping hand. A GoFundMe account, which she set up for the family, began with a modest goal of $1,000. Just two days in, members of the community have already raised $1,500.
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“As a community, I have faith we can come together for this grieving family who has suffered such great loss and return Uncle Sam’s flag along with a great surprise of financial assistance to ease their burdens,” she wrote on the page.
"You almost feel an emotional connection to the name, to the person behind the flag," she said to WHAS11. "Every soldier deserves to go home."