Thursday, September 6, 2012

Newburyport Field of Honor, Sunday, September 9 at Noon

From Daily News

September 4, 2012

'Field of Honor' spurs the emotions of a community

A lone flag fluttering in the breeze can stir the emotions. A field of 500 flags, fluttering in unison, can stir a community.

To remember those who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center, on the Pentagon and in the heroic efforts by passengers in Shanksville, Pa., plus those who have served as firefighters, police, EMTs or military personnel, the Exchange Club of Greater Newburyport is once again installing a field of American flags on the Bartlet Mall, this year from Friday to next Tuesday, with official ceremonies on Sunday, Sept. 9, at noon.

“It’s so beautiful — an amazing event that allows the Newburyport community to reflect on life and how precious it is,” said Susan Hines, mother of 1st Lt. Derek Hines, who lost his life in combat in Afghanistan. “Family and friends have an opportunity to honor those they love.”

Said Exchange Club president Pat Zalewski, “The Field of Honor has come to mean a place of reflection and connection for people. There are so many stories to share and lives to remember.”

Past dedications of flags have covered a wide spectrum of victims and service personnel, from those who came to the rescue and recovery on 9/11 to veterans of the Civil War, WWI and WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the current active duty military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I was actually unaware of the Field of Honor,” said Angela Veltsos, sister of Newburyport High School graduate and Fox Sports Net videographer Thomas Pecorelli, who died on American Airline Flight 11, the first plane to hit the Twin Towers, on his way home to California from a wedding.

“I was coming from the cemetery when I saw the flags. It was so touching. I had to walk over and look at them. As I was reading the tags, I saw my brother’s name. I almost collapsed, I was so overcome. Then the music started to play … It was very emotional for me, not just for those who died, but for those who have served. They have not been forgotten. That makes me feel good.”

That flag had been dedicated by local banker and high school sports broadcaster Richie Eaton, who had at one time been assisted by Pecorelli in filming games.

Last year’s dedication by the Newburyport Fire Department read: “In memory of the 421 New York City first responders who perished on 9/11/01 — 343 FDNY, 23 NYPD, 37 Port Authority, 15 EMTs, and 3 Court Officers, in addition to the 2,000+ first responders injured that day and (the unknown number of those who) have died from injuries and exposure since.”
This writer has honored three great-great-grandfathers who served in the Civil War with the Vermont Volunteers — one of whom died, one of whom was wounded but survived, and one of whom escaped unscathed — and his deceased father, a veteran of WWII. All put themselves on the line. The flags have since been handed on as gifts to his own sons.

“The Field of Honor was a catharsis to honor a woman I adored,” said one-time Vietnam War protester Linda Lu Burciaga of her mother, who joined the Marines during WWII on the very first day women were allowed to join. “Seeing the flag brought tears to my eyes.”

The Exchange Club itself is honoring one of its own — the 88-year-old Merle Forney, a WWII veteran of the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division who has since dedicated his life to the pursuit of peace — “for his untiring spirit of service,” especially as founder of Kids As Peacemakers.

The Exchange Club’s participation in the program was sparked by Past President Kathleen Bailey, who will arrive at this year’s Field of Honor from her business re-location in Georgia to participate in the ceremonies.
“The Field of Honor gives us an opportunity to remember respectfully,” she said. “Not only are we honoring people who have served, giving the ultimate sacrifices of time and, many, with their lives; with each American flag we pay tribute to the great nation in which we live.”

“I find the entire event incredibly meaningful,” said Holly Shay, mother of Sgt. Jordan Shay, who died while serving in Iraq. “As I walk through the flags, I find it a time of reflection. I think of the victims of the attacks, but I also think of the ripple effect on the nation, including that on my own son, who felt the need to go into the service and, of course, the outcome. I can’t imagine anyone not being impressed by the Field of Honor. It’s a wonderful event for the community.”

The opening ceremonies will feature “The Star-Spangled Banner,” sung by Ann Ormand of the Chamber of Commerce and accompanied by a U.S. Coast Guard Color Guard unit, words from local officials, a music presentation by the Merrimack Valley Townsmen and a reading of names of dedicated flags, called the “Verbal Wall,” read to the accompaniment of bagpiper Jim Gabriel, a lieutenant in the Everett Police Department.

Flags may be purchased ahead of time from club members or by going to the website Flags will be sold right through the event as long as supplies last. Members will install the flags on Friday, and purchasers may pick up their flags on Tuesday.

In addition to flag sales, event sponsors include The Newburyport Bank, The Institution for Savings, Stone Ridge Properties, Beacon Relocation, and Ned and Patty McGrath.

In-kind sponsors include Seaport Signworks, the Essex County Sheriff’s Department, PierGeorge, Domino’s Pizza, Dugan Supply, Homisco, WNBP, Dunkin Donuts, Abraham’s Bagels, The Black Duck, Coca-Cola, Port Media, Shaw’s, Peter Zoltai Photography, Merrimack Valley Townsmen, Salisbury Discount House, and Jim Gabriel.

Even anonymous donations have come in.

“Do you accept donations?” asked a man at the Market Square pre-event flag sale tent, offering a $20 bill.
“Is there a story in there?” he was asked.

“No, just a thank-you for what you are doing.”

Proceeds from the Field of Honor will go to the prevention of child abuse in the Merrimack Valley, to local veterans’ organizations and to the charity work of the Exchange Club of Greater Newburyport.

“This program allows us to honor those who have served and at the same time to carry on our work in the community,” said Zalewski. “The mission of the Exchange Club is to make our communities better places in which to live.”
Stuart Deane lives in Newburyport.

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