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Sandy Journal

Healing field helps hearts grow together

Oct 04, 2017 10:35AM ● By Keyra Kristoffersen

Members of the Sandy Fire Department. (Keyra Kristoffersen/City Journals)

September 11, 2017 marks 16 years since passenger planes were hijacked to instill terror in the American psyche. Sandy City is fighting that terror with healing and love. 

“The program is cool, but my favorite thing is the little kids with their mom or dad standing with the flags. People get inspired here to be a better person, a better mom, and better dad,” said Paul Swenson, owner of Colonial Flag and founder of the Healing Field. 

Swenson started putting flags up in 2002 on the anniversary and so many people became interested in being a part of it, buying flags or setting up a Healing Field in their own cities, that now there are over 800 for all of the veterans holidays throughout the year coast to coast. 

“It has an impact on people and it really did help them heal. This flag is for all Americans, not Republican, not Democrat, not independent. These are American flags. This flag doesn’t mean anything political,” said Swenson’s wife, Elizabeth. 

Chris Kishiyama, SWAT commander and 9/11 responder, spoke of never forgetting, not just that it happened and to ensure it doesn’t happen again, but of the change that came over the country within moments of the first plane hitting the tower. 

“It was amazing to me how everyone forgot for just a little while what they were, they forgot who they voted for, they forgot who their favorite baseball team was, they forgot who they were. Above all else, we were Americans. That is what I choose never to forget, that we are all Americans,” said Kishiayama. 

Many in attendance brought their children for the first time to help them understand why the world changed that day in 2001.

“I think it’s an amazing way to remember the people whose lives were lost that day,” said Jamie Hutchinson. “Love and understanding and respect for all because hate brings hate.”

Follow the Flag was also present with Little Betsy, a 30-by-60-foot U.S. flag for volunteers to unfurl. Little Betsy is the younger sister of Big Betsy, a 78-by-150-foot flag, which is the largest flag ever flown and currently resides in Pleasant Grove. 

Since 2001, many first responders — those who plied their way through the rubble — and those who lived and worked in the surrounding areas have succumbed to illnesses directly associated with that day. Many have died, including Utah resident Robin Pilcher in 2016 of incurable pancreatic cancer, while others have suffered a myriad of sicknesses that have debilitated them in many ways. Pilcher was a member of the Unified Fire Authority and Utah Task Force One and the first to die from a 9/11-related illness.

Danielle Barrani is a Utah responder who worked at Ground Zero and dedicated a flag to Pilcher while reminding the audience that “the death toll hasn’t ended.”

“9/11 illnesses have taken over 2,000 lives since 9/11 happened, that we have documented,” said Barrani. “It’s a projection that one million plus people will be affected with one or more 9/11 illnesses before 2025.”

Every year since 2002, the proceeds from flag sales have been awarded to different organizations whose mission is to help people. This year, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) spoke of the importance to love and support one another even when hope seems lost. 

A member of the NAMI team spoke of the Healing Field and the honoring of the dead as aligning with the vision of the organization, saying that they strove for help, hope and healing.

“This Healing Field is an opportunity to communicate for all of us the myriad reasons that people can live through proper treatment, through support, through advocacy and through friends who are willing to listen,” he said. 

Sergeant Samuel Balle called the roll call, which included a 22-rifle salute for Staff Sergeant Aaron R. Butler, a 27-year-old Green Beret from Monticello, Utah who died Aug. 16 in Afghanistan.

 “This day has inspired me to be the man I am today,” said Balle, “This job is very selfless, so having a family that supports you will either make you or break you.”

For more information about NAMI, visit

For information about how to get involved in the Healing Field project, visit 

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