Darlene Gillette fought back tears Thursday as she pondered the veterans recognized by Aurora's Healing Field of Honor.
Men like Darlene's husband of 45 years, Charles Gillette, a veteran of the Marine Corps who served in Vietnam.
"Especially for the Vietnam veterans, when they came back, there was nothing," the Aurora woman said. "It's long overdue. They deserve just as much recognition as others who came back for what they've done."
The Healing Field features 2,013 American flags flying behind West Aurora High School as a solemn salute to all of our veterans. It will remain open for public viewing through Nov. 13.
Together with the nearby Moving Wall, which arrived in town Thursday and will remain up through Veterans Day, it is a touching tribute to members of the armed forces like Charles Gillette and the countless other men and women who have served our country.
Fifty years ago Charles, a lifelong Aurora resident months removed from his high school graduation, was stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Two years later he would be sent to Vietnam.
Darlene's brother, Harold Osby, served in the Air Force during Vietnam and her cousin, Joseph Connors, was in the Army. Her father, Harold R. Osby, served in the Marine Corps during World War II, where he fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima.
The Gillettes sponsored two flags in their memory and honor.
"It's an honor for all who have served our country," Charles Gillette said. "I think it's something to show we truly appreciate those who served."
Gillette's friend, Richard Wormdahl of Sugar Grove, was killed in Vietnam. His name is one of those listed on The Moving Wall.
"I don't really feel like a hero," Gillette said. "I just served my country and Vietnam happened to be there when I was in. I was one of the fortunate ones who came through and made it out."
Sharon Catich, from North Aurora, placed tags on flags Thursday in remembrance of her husband's uncle and her former roommate's father.
"Hopefully this will heal some Vietnam veterans," Catich said. "I know some Vietnam veterans who are bitter about what happened back then. I hope some people will be healed by this."
Sharon's son, Lt. Col. Vincent Catich, served for 23 years in the Navy and Air Force. A squadron commander and U-2 pilot, she said he flew the first spy plane over Afghanistan at the onset of the Afghanistan War.
"We're extremely proud of him as every serviceman's parents are," she said. "This is a moving experience. I'm thrilled to be here."
The Healing Field originally was created as a way to memorialize those killed during the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Since then, hundreds of communities have hosted similar tributes. Last year, West Aurora had a smaller-scale Healing Field with 292 flags for Illinois soldiers killed in action. The number of flags this time represents the year.
Bill Pfeiffer from Aurora was among the volunteers attaching yellow name tags to flags that people can purchase in memory or honor of a veteran. Pfeiffer's father, Fred H. Pfeiffer, served in the Army Signal Corps in Europe during World War II and met his future wife and Bill's mother in France.
"Myself, I grew up during Vietnam. I wasn't in the military, but I knew people who were," Pfeiffer said. "For me to spend a little bit of time here, it's well worth it. Just seeing these flags waving in the breeze, it's a beautiful sight."
Charles Gillette, who keeps a flag flying every day with a light shining on it at night, said he hopes young people understand its significance.
"It represents our freedom that I think sometimes we take for granted," Darlene Gillette said. "I think something like this brings our community together, too."