Flags fly for fallen

July 02, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

Mackenzie Blair and a few of his Boy Scout buddies were joking around Thursday afternoon, like teenagers do, but they had come to Antietam National Battlefield for something serious.

Blair, 13, of Hagerstown, said he was in sixth-grade math class on Sept. 11, 2001, when he heard the news about the terrorist attacks. His mother picked him up from school early.

Nearly three years later, he was in line with more than 100 other volunteers on the historic battlefield to adorn a plowed cornfield with 3,000 U.S. flags. All but two flags had a name of a victim of the attacks.


Asked why he came to help out, Blair said, "I kinda thought it was important to do. (There were) innocent people caught in the crossfire. They were murdered."

Looking across the field that slowly was filling with flags, he said, "You don't really think about it, but for every flag there's a person. It doesn't really sink in until you think about it."

As men, women and children filled the field with flags, others read off the names of the 2,998 people who died during the attacks. Service club members, families, military and local emergency workers joined in to help.

The event, termed a "healing field ceremony," is one of about 30 such events that have taken place since the attacks, according to organizers. Thursday's event was coordinated by the Exchange Clubs of Washington County.

Each flag that was placed on the field can be purchased for $30, which organizers said will go toward the Exchange Clubs' Parent-Child Center in Hagerstown.

Those who were at the battlefield Thursday said the ceremony signified the continued fight against terrorism, and the loss the country experienced that day.

Luther Lane, 64, and his wife Gail Lane, 55, of State Line, Pa., were among the volunteers who had come to place flags on the field.

Luther Lane said it doesn't matter that he didn't know anyone who died in the attacks.

"Who needs to know someone that is a fellow American?" Lane said. "It's my honor to pay tribute to them."

The Lanes and others took flags, walked them to the field, posted them on metal rods that had been sunk into the soil, and returned for more flags.

"We'll keep going back and forth until all 3,000 are up - if my legs'll hold up," Luther Lane said.

"It's just uplifting," Gail Lane said. "There's still a lot of good people and we're gonna continue (to fight terrorism). They can't keep us down."

Lois Abbott, 59, of Waynesboro, Pa., took a step back after placing a flag in the ground and took in the sight of the field.

"I'm so glad that I was able to be a part of this. ... It's just something very sacred and solemn about placing the flags and looking back," Abbott said.

Millard Haines, 61, of Frederick, Md., sat as volunteers read the names of the 9/11 victims. Haines is a member of a group of people who play "Taps" at military funerals and national holiday ceremonies.

Before he played the song Thursday, he said it was hard to keep from getting choked up.

"This is a beautiful setting for this," Haines said as hundreds of flags began waving over the battlefield. "This is probably the most moving ceremony I've ever been to."

Healing field at a glance

What is it?: There are 3,000 flags with the names of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks attached. The flags are flying on a field at Antietam National Battlefield.

Where is it?: A 2-acre cornfield behind the visitors center at the battlefield, which is about 12 miles south of Hagerstown on Md. 65/Sharpsburg Pike.

Is it open to the public?: Yes. Visitors are invited to walk through the flags during park hours from today through Sunday morning.

Can I take a flag home?: Yes. The flags can be purchased through the Exchange Clubs of Washington County for $30. The proceeds will be used to support the Parent-Child Center in Hagerstown to combat child abuse.

How do I buy a flag?: There will be an Exchange Club booth at the battlefield through Sunday morning where you can buy one, or you can call the Parent-Child Center at 301-791-2224.

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