A breathtaking red, white and blue display of 1,000 U.S. flags honoring veterans, active-duty military and first responders premiered this weekend at Merced College.
Presented by the Merced Sunrise Rotary Club and Merced College, the “First Annual Field of Honor” is located on the college’s front entrance lawn, adjacent to Yosemite Avenue and M Street. The flags include individual recognition tags, and some also include personal photos added by sponsors.
Volunteers posted the flags on the lawn Friday, and an opening ceremony was held Sunday afternoon in the college’s theater.
Sunday’s ceremony, which drew hundreds of attendees, began with a moment of silence dedicated to those who have died in the line of duty. During the moment of silence, attendees also remembered Bob Hobbs, who died recently. Organizers said Hobbs was a founding member of the Merced Sunrise Rotary Club and played an active role in making the Field of Honor possible. A tall American flag honoring Hobbs is posted in front of the display.
Merced College President Ron Taylor said he was pleased the college could participate in the event, particularly because his father served in the Korean War. “We’re just so proud that we can be a host for this type of event,” Taylor said.
Frank Reed, Merced Sunrise Rotary president, said the field provides an excellent opportunity for the community to come together and honor those who answered the call to serve. “We are here to honor one and all for the unselfish contributions they made so freely,” Reed said. “These 1,000 flags are waving at us, reminding us of all who have served.”
Planning for the Field of Honor began earlier this year, with organizers offering the flags for $35 sponsorships. All proceeds benefit veterans organizations and designated charities of the Merced Sunrise Rotary Club. The flags will be removed by sponsors at 9 a.m. on Veterans Day and a closing ceremony will follow at 10 a.m.
Cathy Paskin, information booth chair, said the community’s response to the Field of Honor has been very positive, and flag sponsorships are still available. She said “moving,” “inspirational” and “heartfelt” are just a few of the words residents have used to describe the display.
Paskin said she’s also hoping sponsors will march with their flags in the downtown Merced Veterans Day Parade on Nov. 11. Its opening ceremony for the parade is scheduled at noon at Bob Hart Square. The parade procession commences at 1 p.m. on West Main Street.
Music at Sunday’s event was provided by the Merced High School Marching Band, and an honor guard was present. Active-duty military members were represented by retired Air Force Master Sgt. Jack Kelly, and the Wounded Warriors were represented by Sgt. Maj. Art Granado. First responders were represented by Steve Shackelton, director of the Vernal Pool Reserve at UC Merced’s Sierra Nevada Research Institute. Shackelton is also known as a former National Parks Service leader with experience as chief ranger in Yosemite National Park.
During Sunday’s event, 10-year-old Jack Bellew of Merced was recognized for sending care packages to troops serving in Afghanistan.
According to the Colonial Flag Foundation’s website, “The Healing Field” and “Field of Honor” flag display programs began in Sandy, Utah, on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a way to depict the immensity of loss the country had suffered. The concept spread to communities around the nation.