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Decision on who will get 'Healing Field' flags tough

June 16, 2004

Last Saturday, I finished a long journey back through the memories of more than a dozen readers who responded to my call for stories about special veterans who had touched their lives.

When I began this search, I said I would give the 10 best story-tellers flags from the "Healing Field" fund-raiser that will be held Independence Day weekend at the Antietam National Battlefield.

In a cornfield adjacent to the visitors' center there, 3,031 flags will be flown for three days in honor of those killed during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Then they'll be sold to help victims of another sort - those served by the Parent Child Center, a Washington County United Way agency that works to prevent child abuse.

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To say one person is more deserving of a flag than someone else is impossible. All the people whose stories were sent to me are heroes. But since I had to pay for the flags I'll be giving away, I can only offer 10.

The first three will go to those who responded after my first column appeared on May 12. On May 26, I printed the stories of Donald J. Houser, a Korean War veteran who came home to become a successful dairy farmer.

Then there's Bill Somerfield, who raised Bill Sterner of Hancock as his own son.

Sharon Clevenger will also get a flag for her father, the late Ernest Kunz. He was injured in an Army Air Corps accident and spent two years in bed recovering, then came home and raised a family.

Other flags will go to:

Elwood Moats, brother of Lee Jenkins, who wrote:

"My brother represents the average GI who helped to protect all of us. I don't know if he is eligible for one of your 'Healing Field' flags, but he will always be a hero to me ..."

Ronald L. Hoelzer, a former fighter pilot now retired and living in Tampa, Fla., where he helps feed the homeless and raises money for a scholarship group he founded.

His daughter, Marianne Elliott, wrote:

"While he once received the Air Force Association 'Man of the Year' award, he's my 'Man of the Year' every year ..."

Franklin Delano Fehr, who keeps cheering up his family despite a host of medical problems, including three strokes, a heart bypass and the amputation of both of his legs.

His daughter, Diane Hamlin, said his favorite saying is that "Life's road isn't over until it's paved with gold."

"Every now and then, life gets a little rough and for all of us and then the phone rings. It's my dad and he tells me those words and things don't look so bad. Thanks, Dad!"

Rex Harrison Largent, a Marine Corps veteran, served all around the world. But his toughest duty, and the one he faced head-on, was in 2001, when he donated a kidney to his mother.

"Both are doing well," said his friend, Nioga Mills, who added that "What more can a son give to his mom than the gift of life - the same gift she gave him in 1962."

Paul R. Hammond joined the Army at 17 and served for 24 years until retiring in 1979.

His daughter, Sandy Snyder, wrote:

"It was his only career and he served proudly. Now, he spends his time volunteering at his church, helping family and friends and being a good husband, father and grandfather of six. We are very proud of him."

Ellen Albert wrote about her father, who served in World War II saving the lives of comrades who panicked during a Japanese attack. He came home to raise a family, giving up his dream of playing a band for more mundane work that paid the bills.

Sylvia Orendorff wrote about her uncles, simple country boys who served in World War II. To the one who's still living, Joe Riley, will go the last "Healing Field" flag.

A Hagerstown woman who didn't want her name or her father's used sent me his story nevertheless, and I hope to use it in a future column. The same for others that may have arrived after Friday, June 11, when this is being written.

If you didn't write and you'd still like a flag for that special veteran in your life, or for yourself, please contact the Parent-Child Center at 301-791-2224.

The purpose of the "Healing Field" is not only to honor those who died, but to help prevent others - helpless children - from being abused by teaching their parents better ways to raise their kids. If you can help, please do. And to all those who shared stories, thank you again.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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