Why Wheaton's Field of Honor 'oozes with patriotism'
Rudy Keller keeps watch over the Field of Honor in Wheaton, a poignant display of 2,000 American flags arranged in rows with militarylike precision.
It's his patriotic duty to return to the field at Seven Gables Park to flip the switch on the floodlights illuminating the flags through the night, from sunset to sunrise, until the display is taken down after the Fourth of July.
Keller finds quiet moments to read the tags attached to the 8-feet tall flagpoles in tribute to loved ones, friends and neighbors who have served.
Early Thursday, Keller, a retired high school principal, was going through the ritual when he came across a man.
"I thought, well, who's out here at 4 in the morning," he said.
So Keller walked up to the man, and the two got to talking.
The man had sponsored a flag and written the dedication on the tag. He wanted to take a picture of the stars and stripes in just the right lighting, against the rising sun.
Keller asked him about the person he was honoring on the card. Keller wasn't sure how they were related.
"He goes, 'I'll just tell you his name and you can look him up.'"
Keller went home and did just that to find out who was the person behind the name: Lyle Bouck. Turns out Bouck's Army unit was one of the most decorated in World War II and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
"If you read about him, it's like, wow, the many things that this kid -- he's a kid -- that he did," Keller said.
That's the power of the Field of Honor. Each tag on the flags tells a story. And in doing so, soldiers from a long-ago generation are remembered.
"It's very peaceful, very solemn, and it just oozes with patriotism," Keller said.
To create a sea of red, white and blue, Keller worked with the Wheaton Park District, volunteers and Manhard Consulting, an engineering and surveying firm that plotted perfectly straight rows.
The display also serves as a fundraiser for the Warrenville VFW Post 8081 and American Legion Post 589, with the flags available for purchase at the park and online.
Keller's been putting up flag installations around DuPage County for about 15 years. But he still feels the emotional weight.
"It tugs my heart," he said, "and brings a tear to my eye."