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Display of stars & stripes fills Aurora’s Healing Field

West Aurorjunior Seth Palmby is among student volunteers who arrived early Sunday morning stake 2013 flags for Healing Field sports

West Aurora junior Seth Palmby is among the student volunteers who arrived early Sunday morning to stake 2,013 flags for the Healing Field on the sports field west of the high school stadium. | Linda Girardi~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: December 5, 2013 6:23AM

Two thousand and thirteen United States flags stood in formation Sunday at West Aurora High School in tribute to the nation’s military veterans.

“On missions, we would deploy in the dark and return to base at night; rarely would we see the light of day to see something as awesome as this,” U.S. Army veteran Dan Carlson said.

On Sunday, several hundred people attended opening ceremonies for Aurora’s Healing Field of Honor, a patriotic display of flags located west of the Blackhawks football stadium on Plum Street.

The stars and stripes — waving in the breeze from 8-foot-high stands — represented Aurora’s gratitude to the sons, daughters, fathers, mothers and relatives who served and paid the ultimate price for their country.

Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner said the afternoon’s clear and crisp weather was fitting for the memorial. Weisner invited state Reps Linda Chapa LaVia and Stephanie Kifowit, both veterans, to share in the reading of a resolution proclaiming “Healing Field Days” in the city through Nov. 13.

U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-Naperville) said the United States should never go to war out of pride, arrogance or economic self-interest, “but in the end there will be wars we cannot turn away from, and when that happens, there is a debt we can never repay to those who risk everything to keep our country free.”

Foster shared that when he saw the Healing Field, he thought of his great-grandfather, who served as an officer in Civil War. “I am sure everyone here has someone on their minds whose help advanced this country with their service,” Foster said.

“It is important that we honor them with memorials as this, to remind them their service is valued and never forgotten. But we must also honor them by doing everything we can to protect our troops abroad and ensure they have jobs to come home to,” Foster said.

Carlson, 45, retired last month with 26 years of service, which included deployments in Desert Storm, Kuwait, Kosovo and Afghanistan. “I have a lot of buddies who would have liked to see this who didn’t make it back,” said Carlson, an Elgin resident, whose niece performed in the West Aurora Blackhawks marching band for Sunday’s tribute.

For many, the Healing Field was a time to reflect on the individual sacrifices of U.S. troops and their families. “I woke up this morning feeling as though it was Christmas — I have been waiting for this day,” Sheri Lundell said.

“I feel sadness thinking about the sacrifices of so many troops and their families,” the Elgin resident said. “But it feels good to be part of something larger than me.”

Moving Wall to come

The Healing Field is part of a weeklong event that includes the arrival of the Vietnam Memorial Moving Wall on Thursday.

The Moving Wall, a half-size replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., will be on display through Nov. 11 at the high school. The Wall is engraved with the names of 58,282 U.S. soldiers who died in the Vietnam War and are still unaccounted for as prisoners of war and missing in action.

Rudy Keller, a retired West Aurora High School principal — now serving as director of patriotism for District 129 — thanked the veterans who came, the nearly 200 volunteers and Old Second National Bank that sponsored the purchase of the 2,013 flags for the event.

Larry Eckhard — known as the Flagman, who travels the country with his own flags to line miles of streets during funeral services of fallen soldiers — also was recognized. Eckhard lined the streets around the high school campus with 1,000 U.S. flags.

Richard Williams of North Aurora and Don Thompson of Montgomery represented the World War II veterans who were willing to “sign on the line” and serve as young men.

“This is almost indescribable,” Williams said of the display.

West Aurora volunteer students and families arrived early Sunday morning and finished the final rows hours before the crowds arrived.

“Tears welled up in my eyes,” West Aurora parent Sue DeBolt said of the display.

“We appreciate everything our servicemen and women do,” DeBolt said, “and we are grateful to the families for what they have to go through to see their loved ones off.”

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