The traveling memorial is meant to remember those lost in Iraq and Afghanistan War’s. Below me on the grass covered slope, over 6,000 small American flags were arranged in carefully placed rows. I wanted a picture to remember the special event in our city. I could use the picture to show my grandson and explain to him the sacrifices of American service men and women. Try as I might, it was difficult to include all the flags in a single picture. Mark told me he hoped someone had taken a picture from the air to preserve the image of thousands of flags on the hillside.
Mark explained it took nearly eight hours of work and they started out with over 50 volunteers placing the flags that first day. Since then over 300 volunteers have stood vigil over the flags 24 hours a day. He then told me later that evening, at 8:45, Taps would be played over the field.
Upon returning home, my wife asked where I had been for such a long time. I explained where I had been and that taps would be played that evening for the fallen. Without hesitation she wanted to go and be part of that moment.
Evening came and we headed off toward town as the last light of day faded. When we arrived the sky still had a deep blue color to the east and the fading yellow glow in the west. There were three or four other couples waiting as we were. My wife stood overlooking the flags and talking about the families and their losses. For her the men and women represented below brought back memories when her brother served in combat in VietNam—a war long ago, but for those who experienced those times it doesn’t seem so long. We had decided earlier that day, the next morning, we were going to Parkersburg and visit the Traveling Wall. The memorial carries the name of over 58,000 Americans who died in the south East Asian war.
But on the hillside that Saturday night it was for those who have fallen since the war on terrorism began a September day not so long ago.
By now the night had closed around the Field of Flags except where the single light overhead reached to the edge of the field. The red, white, and blue flags were now silhouettes against the passing lights of the cars below. Where the overhead light reached into the Field of Flags their shadows reached from one flag to the next. In the near darkness, each shadow touched the next to form an unbroken chain in the night.
As the evening progressed, I looked around in the darkness and realized dozens of people had arrived to be present for the moment. There were no cell phones ringing, no one talking loudly or laughing. In the darkness, silent shadows of people stood quietly in the warm September air. My wife and I were surrounded by Americans who came to honor those who have fallen. They may not have known their names or faces, but they knew they paid the greatest sacrifice any one can ever pay. They paid for our freedom with their lives. And those people, who were shadows in the darkness, came to show their respect.
A prayer was offered in honor for those who had fallen and their families. Those absent families could not hear the words on the side of this hill far from their homes, but still the words were offered. As the prayer ended, from the darkness came the sound of a lone trumpet playing the most solemn melody in our country, Taps. As the last note faded, no one moved for a few moments, and then I could sense the shadow people leaving for their cars and returning home. Below me lay the Field of Flags held together by the touch of shadows from the fallen. Around me I was surrounded by the shadows of people who are proud to be Americans and realized freedom has a price. They can never repay the debt, but they can honor those who have.
On Sunday morning, we set off down the river to visit the Traveling Wall. Three hundred feet long and standing in the shadows of the oak trees, the memorial sat silent in the park setting. Along the wall, flowers, pictures, newspaper clippings of fallen soldiers, and combat ribbons lay against the bottom of the wall. My wife and I realized that in less than 24 hours we had witnessed two different memorials that represented nearly 70,000 Americans who no longer were with us.
I wanted a picture of the wall to also show to my grandson and talk with him of the war long ago. Like the field of flags, there were so many names that it was impossible to capture them all in one picture. I remembered my photographer’s skills and knelt down next to the Wall and took a picture looking down the length of it. When I got home I looked at the picture and noticed the names from that close angle touched each other. They no longer were individual’s names but thousands that now touched each other to find togetherness. I remember the flags in the near darkness and how the shadows touched each flag next to it. Perhaps that it is not an illusion, but how the memorial brings some comfort to those who have fallen.
This weekend I remembered those who survived and who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. I saw families, husbands, and wives and tearful individuals stand and look upon how we remember and pay honor. It says something about a country that chooses to honor those who protect us. It says something about communities, who choose to host for a short time the Wall and the Field of Flags. It says something about those who organized and stand alongside memorials such as these for days and weeks. And it says something about those who choose to spend some time, paying their respects to those that paid the price for our freedom. We are a country whose freedoms are paid for one life at a time.
Last weekend, when I picked up my camera and aimed it at a Field of Flags and a Wall of names, I stood among American’s paying their respects as we each looked thru the lens.