Healing Field honors 9/11 victims with 2,976 flags in Oak Brook
Jennifer Paul was at home caring for her 6-week-old daughter the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
Like millions of other Americans, she watched in horror as the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon unfolded on television.
"It was like the world was ending," the 38-year-old Brookfield resident said. "I had family there in New York, and we couldn't get hold of them because no phones were working."
Those emotions came flooding back Thursday as Paul stood next to a massive flag display dedicated to those who lost their lives on that terrible day 16 years ago.
The 9/11 Healing Field is on display through Monday at the Oak Brook Sports Core, 700 Oak Brook Road, just east of the Oak Brook Public Library.
Sponsored by the village of Oak Brook and the True Patriots Care Foundation, the Healing Field features 2,976 American flags -- one for each person killed during the Sept. 11 attacks. The flags are attached to poles that are in perfect rows and columns in a soccer field.
"The display is to remember and never forget 9/11," said Elgin resident Jerry Christopherson, president of True Patriots Care.
Each flag has a tag with a victim's name, age, biography and a ribbon -- yellow for civilians, red for firefighters, blue for police officers and white for members of the flight crews. The flags are in alphabetical order by the victims' names.
It's an eye-catching way to remind people of what happened.
"When you tell people that 2,976 died, that's just a number," Christopherson said. "When you see about 2 acres of flags and realize that every one was a person, that kind of brings it into perspective."
Five days of events at the site officially began Thursday night with an opening ceremony. The display, which is illuminated after dusk, is free and open to the public through Monday.
Christopherson said people started visiting the site as soon as the flags were set up on Tuesday.
Bob Tomkins said his wife was driving by Wednesday when she decided she wanted to get a closer look. On Thursday, the couple walked through the display with their 14-month-old granddaughter.
"It's so overwhelming," the North Riverside resident said. "I had no idea it was going to have this many flags. And then to find out that each one stands for some poor soul that happened to go to work that morning and didn't come home ... it's heart-wrenching."
Paul said the hardest part for her was seeing the names of the victims and reading the biographies.
"Just remembering that day hurts," she said.
True Patriots Care is a nonprofit dedicated to honoring and supporting those who have served as first responders and as members of the armed services. The group had its first 9/11 flag display in 2011 in Carpentersville. Last year, it hosted one in West Dundee to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the attacks.
Oak Brook police Chief James Kruger said he asked True Patriots Care to bring the Healing Field to the village after visiting last year's display.
"I thought it was so tremendously awe-inspiring that I knew this would be phenomenal spot to bring it to," Kruger said.
Christopherson said he enjoyed working with village officials to organize the event.
"The volunteers were amazing," he said. Roughly 60 people helped install the flags.
Kruger said the display is a learning opportunity for everyone, especially those too young to remember the tragedy.
"Unless we do this, that next generation isn't going to know about 9/11 and how it's affected all of our lives over the last 16 years," Kruger said.
Events are scheduled Friday through Monday at the site.
The main observance begins at 11 a.m. Sunday with the reading of the names of the fallen. The Navy Band will perform at 2 p.m.; the full program begins at 3 p.m. and includes speeches by Don Basco, a survivor of the attacks on the World Trade Center, and Ryan Yantis, a survivor of the attack on the Pentagon.
The village will hold a ceremony at 9 a.m. Monday with the fire department.
For information, visit oak-brook.org.