Honor to Serve

Author: Kristi Stolzenberg

At Trinity Episcopal Church in The Woodlands, Texas, you’ll find a flag retirement box that stands to collect flags that have grown too worn and weathered to continue to fly. The box tells the story of a life lived in service to others and the lasting bond between a sister and her brother. Grace Kotalik, of Scouts BSA Troop 1777 — this box’s creator — explains the symbolism behind her design: 

“I selected several elements for the box design as reminders of Jarrett. The blue reminds me of the Chicago Cubs, Jarrett’s favorite professional baseball team. There are 13 stripes around the box. While that is also the number of stripes on an American flag, Jarrett always connected that number to me because I was born on February 13. When he went through basic training, he wrote 213 inside his combat boots because he knew I was cheering him on.”

Grace with flag retirement collection box

Jarrett and Grace


Service Heart

Grace’s second-oldest big brother, U.S. Army SPC Jarrett Kotalik, was inspired by his great-grandfather — a paratrooper who landed in Normandy in WWII — to enlist in the military at the age of 17. Jarrett’s legacy of service started long before the Army, though. An Eagle Scout himself — just like Grace’s three other older brothers — Jarrett volunteered with Interfaith and Meals on Wheels. After Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas in 2017, Jarrett, Grace, and the other Kotalik boys snapped into action, preparing meals for the families displaced by the floods. Jarrett aided in neighborhood cleanups, rolled up his sleeves to assist at a local Red Cross shelter, and gathered food and supplies for local distribution.

Jarrett died on July 10, 2023, at the age of 21 while assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Liberty. Grace’s Eagle Scout project has — in such a beautiful way — allowed Jarrett’s legacy of service to continue. Grace shared in a February 3, 2024, article in The Courier of Montgomery County, “Before his passing, he was a volunteer for our other brothers’ Eagle projects. Unfortunately, Jarrett isn’t here to assist with mine. Because he was deeply patriotic, I drew inspiration from him in my planning (for the flag donation project).” In this way, a part of Jarrett is there, cheering Grace on as she pours her heart into this community service project and honors the life and service of her brother and other fallen heroes.

The donation box honoring Jarrett was dedicated on February 1, 2024, and this is the fourth of Grace’s boxes in the area. She has also dedicated flag collection boxes to:

Grace with Ball Family
TSgt Cody Ball and Other Fallen U.S. Air Force Heroes at the South County Community Center

Grace with Hernandez and Guy representatives
LCpl Armando Hernandez, HM1 Kristofer Guy, and Other Fallen U.S. Navy and Marine Corps heroes at the Timber Lakes Timber Ridge HOA building

Grace with Lenz representatives
SPC Joey Lenz and Other Fallen U.S. Army Heroes at Interfaith The Woodland

Grace with Troop 1777

Grace with Troop 1777

Each box is a unique tribute to the heroes it represents and was designed with care by Grace, using her trademark silhouette art and information and images of things that were important to each of them. Each box also bears a QR code that directs visitors to the website created in connection with her project — Flag Boxes for Fallen Heroes. Anyone who scans the QR code on one of her boxes will be able to learn more about the heroes honored on the collection box, Grace’s project, and the special soldier, Jarrett, who inspired it all. 

Be a Part of the Project

On March 9, 2024, Grace — with the support of her community, troop, and family — will retire the hundreds of flags no longer fit to fly that were placed in her collection boxes in a large ceremony held at an amphitheater in the Kotalik family’s local area. As Grace retires each flag, she will say the name of a fallen hero, and when the ceremony is over, she plans to sift through the ash and retrieve the grommets. She hopes to create pendants from these grommets to give to Gold Star Families — a special memento of service, honor, and remembrance. 

Grace and her mom invite any member of the TAPS Family to submit the name of their fallen hero, so he or she can be honored in the flag retirement ceremony. If you would like to submit your fallen hero, you can email Grace’s family at kotalikreed@gmail.com with the following information: 

  • Fallen hero’s name and rank
  • Branch of service
  • Date of birth and date of passing
  • Any additional information, awards, deployments, etc. that you wish to share 


Grace’s passion for honoring her brother and other fallen heroes shines through her project — her blend of respect for the fallen and community service ensures that these fallen heroes will be remembered for years to come. She passes on their stories, says their names, and, through Grace, her brother’s legacy of service continues.

Kristi Stolzenberg is TAPS Magazine and Special Projects Editor.

Photos are courtesy of Dawn Kotalik.