How 'almost magical' Naperville field will honor Vietnam veterans
A wall of names and a field of flags.
It doesn't sound like much.
But when the names are those of the 58,000 military members who died in the Vietnam War, and when the flags are tagged in honor of veterans, it becomes moving, majestic, "almost magical."
Names and flags are the main elements of a tribute taking shape in Naperville as the city plans to present a Healing Field of Honor for the third time.
Organizers launched efforts Thursday at Rotary Hill along the downtown Riverwalk, which will be decorated with a replica of the Vietnam Wall memorial in Washington, D.C., and hundreds of American flags scaling the hill.
"It's almost magical," said Veronica Porter, who's helping plan the field.
She loves the site, where concerts rock over Labor Day weekend and sledders dash down in the winter -- especially when the wind kicks up.
"There's a rustle with the flags," she said.
Flags will be posted from Nov. 6 to Nov. 13. The replica Vietnam Wall will stand tall one day longer, from Nov. 5 to Nov. 13.
The theme this year is "50 Years of Healing," as the U.S. Department of Defense marks the time since the start of the Vietnam War.
Vietnam veteran Wayne Fischer of Naperville said he didn't experience the unpleasant welcome many got after tours of duty, as he returned to his patriotic hometown in Minnesota and a Mississippi military town before settling in Naperville. But he says this year's display will do much to call attention to the service of those who fought with him.
"Having the theme '50 Years of Healing' and having our own Vietnam wall is pretty cool," Fischer said.
Naperville businessman Ray Kinney's printing company is creating 144 panels to list the names of all those honored on the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. Then Naperville Park District employees will build a wooden frame to hold the panels that will span 241½ feet on the north side of the hill, bordering the Riverwalk.
Of all the names of deceased Vietnam fighters, 11 have ties to Naperville: Christopher Wayne Beavers, Michael James Beirne, Michael Edward Dunn, Walter Joseph Gutowski, John Charles Luebke Jr., Ronald Michael Nowak, Dean Ward Moering, Donald John Porter, Jay Charles Sacks, Edward Michael Sieben and John Braxton Woodall.
"The important thing for us is to recognize those men and women," Fischer said.
Healing field organizers are planning two main events at the site.
The first is an opening ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 7, to unveil the wall and allow people to attach tags to flags in honor of veterans. Flags cost $30 and tags are $5. Proceeds benefit the Allen J. Lynch Medal of Honor Veterans Foundation, established by a veteran from Gurnee to provide stopgap financial assistance to veterans in need.
A second ceremony is scheduled at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11, for Veterans Day.
In between the main events, spectators of the third annual Healthy Driven Naperville Marathon will be invited to view the field after the race starts at 7 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 8. Organizers also hope to invite history classes and Vietnam vets to view the field -- which will be open around the clock -- during quieter moments.
Vietnam veterans, especially, should find the site a peaceful place to reflect, even in silence, said Anna Zimmerman, who is in charge of selling flags and tags for the field. (Contact her at email@example.com to buy one.
"They don't talk," Zimmerman said about those who served in Vietnam.
"They'll open up, though," said David Wentz, who led Healing Field planning efforts when Naperville last posted a field in 2012, "during an event like this."