The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 had a horrifying impact on us as a nation and as individuals. Rotarian Paul Swenson saw the “sheer enormity” of the human loss evidenced by the rubble, carnage and confusion at ground zero. The horror and despair of that scene brought no comfort. Swenson wanted to acknowledge the enormity of the sacrifice with a positive image that would also offer hope and comfort: a display that would offer healing.
As the president of Colonial Flag Company, Swenson recognized the simple yet emotional power of the United States flag. He had seen the comfort in the eyes of a Gold Star Mother upon the receipt of a flag presented “on behalf of a grateful nation.” The folded flag, which had so recently draped the casket, reminded family that the fallen warrior was part of a cause greater than self, that we all are indeed part of that same cause, something greater than self. Swenson knew from so many similar experiences the healing power that can be found in the simple display of the flag.
Swenson envisioned a display of 3,000 flags, a “healing field,” to honor those who died on the altar of freedom on 9/11. Not a pile of rubble bleak against a gray smoke-streaked sky, but ordered lines of flags posted on a grassy field, fluttering in the breeze against a blue sky. The enormity of the event symbolized with a positive and beautiful image.
This was certainly a big idea. Many people have big ideas that never come into fulfillment. However, that would not be the case with Swenson and his vision of a Healing Field. He set out to make his vision a reality. The vision took planning, coordination and determination. In the effort, Swenson discovered a host of problems that required solution. He encountered doubters and naysayers who did not share the vision that he saw so clearly.
Swenson found an appropriate grassy field adjacent to the city hall in Sandy, Utah. The quadrangle seemed to have been planned for the very purpose, and city officials were excited in their support.
On the first anniversary of the attack, the first Healing Field display rose in Sandy. On a field roughly the same size as the footprint of the destroyed World Trade Center, volunteers posted 3,000 United States flags—a graceful and solemn tribute to lives lost when terrorists attacked us on a clear autumn day. Tens of thousands walked amidst red, white and blue flags displayed in ordered lines and fluttering in the wind to remind all of the enormity of loss while bringing a feeling of comfort and healing. In the display, visitors could also experience resolve in meeting the challenge terrorists brought to our shores.
Each year since, Sandy has hosted a Healing Field display. Additionally, Healing Field and Field of Honor flag displays have spread throughout the nation, making it possible for countless thousands to share in the positive experience. Rotary has been a strong partner in hosting Healing Field flag displays around the country.
Understandably, such a program requires financial support. Even with volunteers, flags and poles are not without cost. How could the displayed flags be presented free to the public while yet covering the costs of the fields? In order to do this, Swenson, through the Colonial Flag Foundation, created a program that would not only support itself but would also raise money for charities. Veterans’ programs, civic organizations, schools and numerous charitable programs have benefited from funds raised as individuals and businesses sponsored flags.
This September will mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The unity and resolve we felt as a nation has unfortunately dimmed with time. Many of our youth are too young to remember the horrific events of that day. Healing Field displays remind and teach while replacing scenes of despair with vistas of hope. It all started with the vision of Rotarian Paul Swenson. A vision turned to reality—a reality spreading hope and healing as we remember the day we lost so many, and stood together.
Search West Michigan Healing Fields to sponsor a flag for just. $75.