On Friday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend, the Field of Flags went on display on the front hillside of Newtown Congregational Church, 14 West Street. Originally scheduled to be on view just for the holiday weekend, the church was offered the opportunity to keep the exhibit of American flags on view until June 14, and it quickly accepted.
Sixteen members of Newtown Congregational Church, along with Jo-Ann Hornyak and Anne Kirkpatrick of Somers Congregational Church and a few members of Bridgewater Congregational Church, where the display will be on view next, spent a few hours on Friday, May 22, assembling nearly 5,000 flags in rows.
The Field of Flags was dedicated on Sunday, October 23, 2005, at Somers (Conn.) Congregational Church. The church’s Memorial Garden Committee wanted to do something to show support for the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan while also reminding the public of the danger — and loss — of the War on Terror.
Members of the SCC Memorial Garden Committee placed 2,231 American flags — each measuring 12 by 8 inches, one for every American killed in Iraq and Afghanistan at that time — on the west lawn of their church that October. The list of war dead is displayed on boards, listed by state, showing the name and rank of each American killed. The board also holds a box that offers one-page copies of the history of the Field of Flags, including a listing of where it has been presented since its inception.
The Newtown group started working at 10 am last Friday and finished the installation task just before 4 pm, which was later than expected. Jan Bennett had signed up for one of the one-hour shifts but ended up staying at the church for five hours.
“I wasn’t going to stay that long, but I couldn’t leave,” she said. “I kept thinking ‘I can’t leave this job unfinished, and I don’t have to be anywhere.’”
Mrs Bennett, her husband Steve and fellow NCC member Gary Storms were the final three to finish the installation, along with Ms Hornyak and Ms Kirkpatrick from Somers and NCC Senior Pastor Matthew Crebbin, who worked in the morning and also returned that afternoon.
“We didn’t have as many people working as we should have,” Mrs Bennett admitted. “The ground was also so hard. You couldn’t get the flags in, and some of them broke when we were putting them in.”
Newtown Congregational Church finished its May 24 worship service outdoors, with members leaving the sanctuary and gathering on the church lawn.
“We concluded the service outside with a litany and a prayer of dedication, recognizing that we may come from all different places politically, but we recognize our connection to those who have given the ultimate sacrifice,” said Pastor Crebbin.
“We’ve had a pretty steady stream of people coming to visit, stopping to see the field,” he added. “There is a book there for comments and prayers, and prayer requests.”
Pastor Crebbin and NCC Associate Pastor Janice Touloukian will review the prayer requests and will incorporate them into each weekend’s worship services, he said.
The Field of Flags has become a ministry that has brought comfort to many families as it has traveled to five other states. In addition to Connecticut, the traveling memorial has been displayed in Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and, most recently, Virginia. The flags have waved at a number of locations, including Methodist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and United Church of Christ churches, as well as a Catholic Seminary and a Harvest Assembly of God.
With each new death in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a corresponding flag is added to the field, and that person’s name is added to the list of casualties. By the beginning of this year the field had grown to include 4,929 flags when it was installed at Seymour (Conn.) Congregational Church. The presentation had grown to include 4,981 flags by the time it was installed in Newtown, and at least three more flags will be added to the field by the end of the week.
“My mom told me about three more casualties over the weekend,” said Christina Bennett, who helped with the installation last week and called the experience an honor.
“You’re representing the people who represented you,” during the installation process, she said, “and it was like giving a gift back to them. It’s a very visual representation of the destruction the war is causing, the devastation it’s bringing to families across the country.”
“Many people have stopped by and they’ve been commenting in the book,” said Jan Bennett, who checked on the field over the weekend. “We’ve heard a lot of thank yous. They appreciate what we’ve done. It’s a nice thing. It’s an impressive sight.”
Christina Bennett also returned to the church over the weekend and was again moved at the sight of the flags.
“It kind of made me mad,” she said. “It’s so big, there are so many flags. I think at this point the war is purposeless, Americans are dying needlessly. How many flags have to be put there before this ends?”
The Field of Flags was begun as a silent, patriotic, and poignant reminder of the cost of war. Each flag represents not simply one casualty, but all the family members and friends who have been touched by that life now gone. They represent a respect for those who have served and are currently serving in the military and a hope for peace in the future, for a time when no one is called upon by our country to give the greatest sacrifice.
Faded flags speak not just of how long the Field of Flags has been traveling but also about the length of the ongoing conflict. Placed next to brand new flags that stand for that latest American casualties, the combination of banners speak volumes about the continued efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.