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updated: 11/6/2015 4:39 PM

How Naperville's Healing Field for veterans comes to life

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  • Roger Sweely, a Vietnam veteran from Naperville, helps place flags Friday for the Healing Field of Honor at Rotary Hill in Naperville. This year's theme is "50 Years of Healing" to honor Vietnam Veterans.

      Roger Sweely, a Vietnam veteran from Naperville, helps place flags Friday for the Healing Field of Honor at Rotary Hill in Naperville. This year's theme is "50 Years of Healing" to honor Vietnam Veterans.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Hank Verboomen of Naperville and a World War II veteran, carries flags as he helps set up the Healing Field of Honor on Rotary Hill in Naperville.

      Hank Verboomen of Naperville and a World War II veteran, carries flags as he helps set up the Healing Field of Honor on Rotary Hill in Naperville.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Naperville's Healing Field

 
 

The Healing Field of Honor in Naperville is a place to pause and reflect, to slow down and offer a "thank you" to veterans, to relax and take it all in.

But the field at Rotary Hill went up in a hurry Friday afternoon as 75 volunteers quickly posted 2,105 flags on the grassy expanse along the downtown Riverwalk, turning it from a field of green to a field of flags in less than two hours.

"It's amazing how quickly it does go up when you get this many hands involved," said Brad Wilson, Naperville Park District director of recreation.

The flags themselves arrived in regal fashion just before the Millennium Carillon bells began to chime at noon. Ushered in by police cars with red and blue flashing lights and several motorcyclists, the flags arrived draped in a red, white and blue tarp and lying atop a flatbed trailer.

The banners of our nation's colors are part of the third Healing Field of Honor in Naperville since 2009. The theme of this year's field is "50 Years of Healing" to mark the 50th anniversary of the beginning of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

A replica of the Vietnam Wall memorial in Washington, D.C., stands at the north end of the display of flags, blocking the Riverwalk and the river itself from view and creating a border for the field that lists the names of all 58,000 American military members killed in Vietnam.

"Seeing the wall here is extra special," said Jim King of Naperville, a Vietnam veteran who volunteered to set up flags Friday afternoon. "It really came out really nice."

The focus on Vietnam veterans is a new element of honor at the Healing Field, but Marty Walker, chairman of this year's display, said that doesn't take away from the symbolic praise the setup offers those who served in other wars before and since.

"This is a field of honor that is dedicated to all of our veterans," Walker said.

The field will be open around the clock until Thursday, Nov. 12. Gold-tinted lights the park district installed will illuminate the area at night, when Walker said it's especially moving to gaze at the names on the wall and listen to the rustle of the flags.

"The flags take on a whole other personality," Walker said. "When you come here at night, you get the sense of peace, tranquillity."

King said he spent entire nights at past Healing Fields in 2009 and 2012 looking at all the flags and reading the names of those they were posted to honor.

"It's a great thing that Naperville does," King said.

David Wentz, who organized efforts to bring the first Healing Field to Naperville, told King he did so "for guys like you."

Anyone who wants to honor a veteran can buy a flag for $30 and a tag for $5 to mark with a message of their choice. Flags and tags are for sale from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. inside the Riverwalk Eatery at the base of Rotary Hill. Proceeds benefit the Allen J. Lynch Medal of Honor Foundation.

One tag from the Sweely family affixed early Friday afternoon to a flag along the field's center aisle put its praise for veterans in simple terms:

"Thanks to all veterans for your service," it read. "God Bless America!"

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