Friday, June 18, 2010
By James Lomuscio
They are the small-sized American flags people joyfully wave along parade routes on national holidays, only these had a more somber message as they were planted throughout the day today on the lawn of Westport’s Saugatuck Congregational Church.
Side by side and in military fashion, each flag represents the American war dead in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past nine years. By 5 p.m., the time a memorial ceremony was about to begin, the flags totaled a sobering 5,516, including 52 fallen soldiers and Marines from Connecticut.
“It looks so beautiful,” said Toni Rubin and she and her husband Stephen Rubin waited at the end of the honor guard procession. “But, when you think of what it is ... ”
“It’s ugly,” Stephen Rubin chimed in about the toll war takes.
A bagpiper played an almost dirge-like “God Bless America” as more than 100 marched along the winding church driveway past the flags. Marchers included state and local officials, the local Veterans of Foreign Wars, town clergy, Boy Scout troops 36 and 39, and private citizens including the mother of a fallen soldier.
“You look at those flags, and your eyes focus on one after the other, and all of a sudden the cost of war becomes real,” said First Selectman Gordon F. Joseloff.
Westport First Selectman Gordon F. Joseloff: “All of a sudden the cost of war becomes real.” (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Larry Untermeyer for WestportNow.com
The Rev. Howie Tobak, interim pastor of the Saugatuck Congregational Church, said he was inspired to see the community come together for what he called “a sacred purpose.”
“A sacred purpose to honor those who have given their very lives in the service of this nation and to dedicate the future going forward,” he said.
From the very young who attend the church’s nursery school to the very old, those who placed flags arrived in different time slots beginning at 11 a.m. One by one they stuck the small wooden posts into the earth to create a sea of red, white and blue.
As Girl Scouts Sophie Call and Emily Flood each read different stanzas from a poem, “Field of Flags,” one line resonated with the knee-level flags that flapped in a the breeze: “each one waving a last goodbye.”
An interdenominational service concluded the Field of Flags ceremony late today. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Larry Untermyer for WestportNow.com
A soulful “Star Spangled Banner” sung by Westport resident Linda Kootrus also took on new meaning as each small banner came to represent a life lost.
Mary Ann West, co-chair of the church’s Field of Flags team, described the event as “a silent, patriotic and poignant reminder of the cost of war.”
“We are hosting it to honor those who have served and as a tribute to those who are currently serving,” said West prior to the event. “And, we certainly want to reach out to family members of those in the service.”
While Shalini Madaras of Wilton said she was happy for those men and women who returned home from war, she choked back tears when she spoke of her 19-year-old son Nicholas who was killed in Iraq three years and nine months ago.
The mother then praised those who placed flags for “someone they did not know personally.”
“Each flag also represents a family member and a loved one left behind,” said Madaras who is now active with Homes for Brave in establishing transitional housing in Bridgeport for homeless female veterans.
Those who took part in orchestrating the event included the U.N. Hospitality Committee, the American Legion and VFW, all Town of Westport offices and departments, the Westport Rotary and Sunrise Rotary Clubs, the Y’s Men and the Y’s Women, the Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Merchants Association, the Westport school system, the League of Women Voters, the Westport Arts Center, the Westport Country Playhouse, as well as the local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
West noted that the Westport Police Department donated its time to traffic detail for the tribute.
In Connecticut, the first Field of Flags began at the Somers Congregational Church on Oct. 23, 2005 when 2,231 American flags, one for each American casualty in Iraq and Afghanistan, were placed in a memorial garden, said West.
The flags are scheduled to remain at the Saugatuck Congregational Church until July 5.
Posted 06/18/10 at 11:46 PM Permalink