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Honor the vet in your life with a free 'Healing Field' flag

May 12, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

Last year, after my mother had lost her ability to read due to a disease called macular degeneration, she gave me the letters my father sent her from Guam, an island in the South Pacific where he was stationed during World War II.

During his two years there, he wrote every day, so I haven't gotten through all of them. But so far the story they tell is of a man in his 20s, recently married, who deeply missed his wife and the life he'd had.

I'm sure there are other stories out there, not just about veterans of World War II, but of those who served in all the conflicts that came after. Stories of sacrifice, of months and years spent fighting for freedom in a foreign land.

I'd like to hear those stories and honor some of those veterans, so here's what I'm going to do. I have 10 American flags I've been asked to sell as part of the "Healing Field" project, about which I'll say more later.

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But I'm not going to do that. Instead, I'm going to give them away in exchange for the following:

Tell me, in 100 words of less, why a veteran in your life deserves one these flags. It doesn't have to be a war story, because if your favorite veteran is like my father, he or she doesn't talk much about the time in the service.

Maybe their real heroics came later, in civilian life, when they coached soccer or baseball, or cared for an aging parent.

Maybe it was when they faced a debilitating disease or illness, or stood up for the right thing when everyone else was telling them to just "let it go."

You get the idea: Not all heroes are on the battlefield. But I do want your submissions to be about people who've served in the military at some point in their lives.

And because I want some good, thoughtful responses, I'll give you until Monday, May 24 to respond.

That should give you time to ask Mom or Dad or Uncle Fred whether they'd mind if you told their story to the The Herald-Mail's readers.

Send letters to: A Flag for a Vet,

The Herald-Mail, Editorial Page Editor, 100 Summit Ave., Hagerstown, MD, 21740.

The flags will come to you courtesy of me and an event called "Healing Field."

It began on the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks when Paul Swenson, of the Sandy, Utah, Exchange Club, organized the planting of 3,031 flags in honor of those Americans killed in the attacks.

Those who saw the display in Utah - and those that have been organized elsewhere - have remarked on how moving it is to realize that each flag represents one person whose life was lost on that day.

At the 2003 National Exchange Club convention, the service club's top officials endorsed the idea of other Exchange Clubs around the country doing the same. Now, the two local clubs - Hagerstown and Antietam - have taken on the task, with the help of the Antietam National Battlefield.

On a cornfield adjacent to the battlefield visitors' center of Md. 65, the flags will be placed and flown for three days on the July 4 Independence Day weekend.

Then they will be sold, with the proceeds going to Exchange's national priority, the prevention of child abuse. That mission is carried out locally by the Parent-Child Center, a United Way agency located at 998 Potomac Ave. in Hagerstown.

The center fights child abuse in a variety of ways. In one program, volunteer aides are assigned to households where children are at risk of being abused, or where abuse has already taken place.

The aides teach proper parenting techniques and help families though family crises.

Other programs help teen mothers learn how to nurture their babies, while yet another takes those same teen mothers to school assemblies, where they tell other young people about how tough the job of being a parent really is.

In a way, abused children are like the victims of 9/11, in that they didn't ask to be hurt, or do anything to deserve it.

In most cases, their parents aren't monsters, but actually victims of long-ago abuse themselves.

In times of stress, they fall back on what they know - the belt, the slap in the face, the cruel words. And because their parent did the same to them and they think it's OK.

It's not OK, of course, and by participating in this "Healing Field" event, you can help prevent more abuse, even as you honor those who died in September 2001.

For more information on the project, call the center at 301-791-2224.

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