Annual Healing Field spreading, raising money for charitiesOct 04, 2018 02:46PM ● By Jana Klopsch
Flags fly on the Sandy Healing Field. The tradition was started in 2002 by Paul Swenson as a memorial for the 9/11 attacks, and has since spurred a foundation and fundraising efforts around the country. (Heather Lawrence/City Journals)
By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]
When it comes to memorials, sometimes an image is worth a thousand words. Or even three thousand. That’s the idea that Paul Swenson, head of the Colonial Flag Foundation and creator of the Healing Field, had when he imagined a way to memorialize the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. A flag placed for each life. A simple statement. But together, standing in front of Sandy City Hall in row upon row of ordered red, white and blue, the flags create a powerful image.
Each year since 2002, Colonial Flag has partnered with Sandy City to set up 3,000 flags on the field. Put up on Sept. 8 and taken down on Sept. 12 by an army of volunteers, the field is open to any who want to wander through it. Along with the ceremony on Sept. 11, Swenson hopes people who visit will find connection, meaning and healing.
“We live in a world of symbolism. People know what a flag means. They don’t need a lecture about it. Here it represents someone who died. So when you see this number of flags it’s a visual representation of how many lives were lost. You can’t miss it. You can’t hide it as a little number in a newspaper,” Swenson said.
The idea that started in Sandy has spread across the country. “After the first year we did it, Paul started getting calls from people in Arizona and New Mexico saying that they wanted to do it. He started the Colonial Flag Foundation. We developed training materials and now we have the capability to help organizations all over the country who want to do this,” said John Hartvigsen, a board member of the Colonial Flag Foundation.
The program got so big, in fact, that it was at risk of not being financially feasible. “There are people who get ideas, and then there are people who get ideas done. Paul Swenson gets ideas done. We got the idea of using the event as a fundraiser. So people can now buy a flag for a donation, and donate it to a loved one,” Hartvigsen said. This year, the fundraiser will help Operation Underground Railroad (OUR).
Robert M. Bedont conducted the evening ceremony on the Sandy Promenade. He said that to date, more than 840 Healing Fields have been set up for various purposes around the country. He also noted that there are now flags for service dogs who died and FBI agents who died due to illness sustained as a result of the attacks.
After an invocation by Dave Swenson, there was a Presentation of Colors by the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, chapter 49-1. Dan Cord followed with an electric guitar rendition of the National Anthem, and then the Pledge of Allegiance was led by Jay Ziolkowski, assistant chief of the Unified Fire Authority.
Mayor Kurt Bradburn welcomed all to the program. The mayor admitted that he hasn’t been getting much done in his office since the flags were set up. With a bird’s-eye view of the field, the display draws his attention often. Stacy Despain, Utah guitarist and singer, and an additional musician on fiddle stepped on to the stage. Together, they performed “This Land is Your Land.” The simple, unrushed arrangement was a soundtrack to the sunset.
Paul Swenson introduced speaker Dave Lopez. Lopez is an operator for this year’s fundraiser beneficiary, OUR. A former Navy SEAL and special ops agent, Lopez spoke from the heart. “I remember where I was when I heard the news about 9/11. I was a junior in high school, and I was sitting in Spanish class,” Lopez said.
He recalled feeling the hate from others who would commit such an act. It was the same feeling he had years later when he learned about the worldwide situation of human trafficking. As an operator with OUR, Lopez works under the direction of Tim Ballard and is sent with teams all over the world to rescue children who are enslaved. Working with local law enforcement, OUR also helps arrest and prosecute the traffickers.
Lopez drew a connection between today’s human trafficking and the slavery once practiced in the United States. “We haven’t fully healed. I believe this nation is great. I believe it is the greatest country on the face of the earth. I love this country not for its accomplishments, but because of the ideals that we stand for. I love this country because we believe that every person deserves a right to live a free and happy life,” Lopez said.
“(Americans) need something to rally behind, just like that moment when the towers got struck. What’s happening to these children on a global scale is nothing less than slavery. We’re at a crossroads. We can go one of two paths. We can be divided as a nation. Or we can unify to finally end slavery, what we set out to do from the beginning. I believe that (ending slavery) is our nation’s destiny,” said Lopez. The crowd gave him a standing ovation, and then dispersed among the rows of flags.