A field of flags began the humble work of healing hearts Friday for families of military members in Aurora.
The flags flying outside West Aurora High School helped connect the past and present for Debbie and Ron Ritter, West Aurora alums who have two sons serving in the military who graduated from the same school.
They offered an emotional release for Bruce and Christine Darby of Oswego, whose daughter, Allison, is in her first week as a member of the Air Force, following the footsteps of her brother, who has been serving for two years.
Roughly 50 residents gathered to view the flags as a preview of the Healing Field of Honor, which will be displayed Nov. 3 to 13 in Aurora to coincide with Veterans Day on Nov. 11.
Flags posted in neat rows west of the school's football field were only a small preview of what's to come.
"It really does show you that our country is behind our military," Debbie Ritter said. "This is a special place to us and to have the Healing Field here is fantastic."
In the weeks between Friday's preview and Oct. 30, anyone who wants to honor, thank, salute or remember an active duty military member or veteran can buy a flag and a tag to mark it with that person's name.
The field can be an especially moving way to remember military members who have given their lives in service, said James Rydland, superintendent of West Aurora District 129.
"We have the responsibility every day to honor and appreciate them and attempt to understand what that means," he said, about those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. "Our goal is every day to say 'thank you.'"
Buying a flag costs $30, while yellow tags to mark the flags cost $5. Tags and flags are available online at aplusfoundation.org/healingfield.asp or by mail with checks payable to Eve Willmann at 1201 W. New York St., Aurora, 60506. Those who buy flags can take them home as a memento beginning Nov. 13 or have them shipped to someone out of town for $10.
Organizers aim to have 2,013 flags billowing atop eight-foot staffs when the field opens for free public viewing Nov. 3.
Military parents like the Ritters and Darbys tagged their flags Friday and stood aside them as a bagpiper preceded a trumpeter's rendition of taps. Some teared up, their faces filled with sadness, worry and pride as flags newly marked in their children's honor waved silently in the breeze.
West Aurora has hosted patriotic events in the City of Lights for years, Mayor Tom Weisner said, so it's a fitting location to set up the Healing Field, which is sponsored by Old Second National Bank and the A+ Foundation of West Aurora schools.
"This is not only the home of the Blackhawks, it's become the home where all veterans can find appreciation for their service to country," Weisner said, standing aside the school's red, white and blue bleachers.
Assemblies for West Aurora students and the public will be held during the Healing Field's 10-day run. The Moving Wall Vietnam Memorial also will draw people to West Aurora grounds from Nov. 7 to 11, with an opening ceremony just east of the football field at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Nov. 8, and a ceremony honoring people who have lost loved ones in war at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9.
"We're excited that communities all over the area will be visiting this campus," said Jim Eccher, president and CEO of Old Second National Bank. "(It) has become sacred ground."