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updated: 10/31/2013 5:04 PM

Aurora to salute veterans with 'Healing Fields'

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  • Aurora's Healing Field of Honor officially will open at 1 p.m. Sunday and will feature 2,013 flags. Christine and Bruce Darby stand with the two flags for their children, Nathanial and Allison, who are both serving in the U.S. Air Force, during a ceremony last month to preview the event.

       Aurora's Healing Field of Honor officially will open at 1 p.m. Sunday and will feature 2,013 flags. Christine and Bruce Darby stand with the two flags for their children, Nathanial and Allison, who are both serving in the U.S. Air Force, during a ceremony last month to preview the event.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 

Bill Dugan understands the significance of the flag.

Dugan's uncle Charles was stationed at Hickam Field Air Force Base adjacent Pearl Harbor when it was bombed on Dec. 7, 1941. Cousin Tom was the youngest survivor of the attacks.

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Dugan's father, Joseph, served in the Army during World War II, his wife Michelle's father James Mentel in the Navy. Three uncles also served, including an uncle Bob still living in Florida.

"Whenever we see a flag pass on any parade route, we always get up to stand and respect the flag. A lot of people aren't taught that anymore," said Dugan, who lives in Aurora. "In terms of supporting all of our veterans, it is very personal to me."

Dugan will be present for a powerful tribute to those veterans.

On Sunday, Aurora's Healing Field of Honor opens near West Aurora High School. The A+ foundation of West Aurora Schools, sponsor of the Healing Field with Old Second National Bank, hopes to have 2,013 flags waving in the breeze when the field opens for public viewing. The display will run through Nov. 13 to coincide with Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

"It's going to be a patriotic event, very emotional, very significant," said Rudy Keller, former West Aurora co-principal and chairman of the A+ Foundation. "For each person that has a flag up there it represents somebody. More than likely that person put their life on the line to make our freedom what it is today."

The Healing Field's origin came as a way of memorializing those killed during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Naperville is among the hundreds of communities to hold the tributes since.

Last year West Aurora had a smaller-scale Healing Field with 292 flags for Illinois soldiers killed in action.

A preview of some 80 flags were unveiled in October. In the weeks since, people could salute and honor an active duty military member or veteran by buying a flag and a tag to mark it with that person's name.

Bill and Michelle Dugan personally sponsored a flag to honor their family members who served in World War II, and Bill also sponsored five flags through his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus recognizing each branch of the armed services.

"It really tugs at our heartstrings, especially as we see the 'Greatest Generation' not becoming a forgotten generation," Dugan said. "It's an awesome sight driving by."

The Healing Field will coincide with a five-day display of the touring Vietnam Memorial Moving Wall from Nov. 7 to 11, which features a half-size replica of the memorial in Washington, D.C. Organizers are expecting close to 300,000 visitors during that time.

Robert Velazquez, who graduated from West Aurora, lives in Aurora and served in the Marine Corps from 2002-2009 with a tour in Iraq in 2006, sponsored landscaping for the wall and installed brick pavers through his business Semper Fi Yard Service.

He was given 10 flags for himself, and to remember family and friends who served.

"With the wall coming to Aurora, we want to make this as memorable as possible," Velazquez said. "It goes to show the sacrifice people made."

John Emerson purchased five flags to remember the deceased veterans of the Knights of Columbus, and five for members of the Batavia Lions Club. He also bought five to honor five uncles who served in the Korean War and Vietnam War, and plans to give the flags to each of their kids.

"What an honor to be a participant and end up with a flag from the whole thing," Emerson said.

The Healing Field opening ceremony will be at 1 p.m. Sunday at the field just west of the stadium off Plum Street. Those who obtain a tag in memory of someone who has served in the armed forces will be able to place the tags on their own flags between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Nov. 6.

"People will be honoring military from World War I all the way up to present day," Keller said. "It is amazing. Each flag has its own story."

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