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Field of Flags Regarded as a Symbol of the Post 9/11 World

A local vet says the respect shown to the military is a stark contrast to the Vietnam era.

The Field of Flags has made the rounds.

It began as an idea in Somers and has graced the lawns of churches there several times.

It was been to Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Florida, Tennessee, New Jersey, West Virginia and Massachusetts in addition to Connecticut.

Each flag symbolizes a fallen member of the armed services during campaigns in the Middle East, and now as it sits on the lawn of the First Congregational Church in Vernon, it has become a symbol, 11 years after the Sept. 11, 20001 terrorist attacks, of the reflective respect shown for the those who fight the war on terror.

And the victims that day in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania.

Just ask Harold "Hal" Cummings. Before he was Vernon's town attorney, Cummings had a distinguished and decorated career in the U.S. Army. He was on active duty in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division. He was transferred to Retired Reserve in 1993 after 25 years of service, having achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was awarded the Bronze Star, Army Achievement Medal, Army Commendation Medal and two National Defense Service Medals (for Vietnam and service in the Persian Gulf).

In his words, he has been through, "40 years, three wars and a national tragedy," and was moved when he helped place the flags on the lawn of his church for the 9/11 anniversary.  

"In many ways, the Field of Flags has the same impact as the Vietnam War Memorial or the tradition of reading every victim's name on 9/11," Cummings said. "Each flag represents a person and their family, someone who sacrificed their life for the rest of us."

He continued, "The Field of Flags, like the Vietnam War Memorial is a vivid reminder that freedom is not free and of the price that has been paid for our freedom. The ceremonies and the reading of the names on 9/11 is a reminder to all of us that we do not live in a cocoon, safe from the turmoil and conflicts in the rest of the world - that any of those names could easily have been any of us or a friend or a relative - and that we must ever remain vigilant and not take the security which our soldiers have  won for us, for granted."

When the flags were placed in late August, they totaled 6,579. Since then, nine were added and the flags will stay out until Sunday - three days longer than originally planned.  

The “Field of Flags” was dedicated on Oct. 23, 2005 at the Somers Congregational Church. Members of the Memorial Garden Committee placed 2,231 American flags, one for each American casualty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The flags were placed to honor those who have given their lives in the conflicts and to show that those who have died and their families and friends were remembered in prayer at our church," according to a history of the Field of Flags published by the church. "The idea for the Field of Flags came about as members of the Memorial Garden Committee considered what our church could do to show support for our troops. Each casualty reminded us of the danger and increased the empathy we felt for the families of those who have died."

Cummings knows such support for U.S. troops was not always part of society.

"When I came back, I stayed on in the National Guard and then the Army Reserve," he said of 1972. "Few of us wore our uniforms on the street. I personally was spit upon and called a 'baby killer' while in uniform on my way to drill. Time went on, and most of us adjusted and just kept doing our duty."

Then the world changed - 29 years later. He said 9/11 "was a shock."

"I just happened to be near a television that morning and watched the second plane dive into the tower," Cummings said. "I think all of us in the country experienced that day a sense of what it was like to lose a fellow American to  enemy action. Watching a buddy die in combat is not something that civilians are used to seeing - and soldiers never get over."   

Sept. 11 is certainly a reflective day for all emergency services workers.

“Abraham Lincoln once said, 'Any Nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure.' While time has passed, we, as first responders, will never forget September the 11th," said Michael Purcaro, Vernon's emergency management director and an Ellington resident. "We remember and honor the valor exemplified by our brothers and sisters who rushed into danger to save others. On this solemn anniversary we join with their families in honoring their memory."

The aftermath had led to practical changes in the way first-responders carry out their jobs, Purcaro said.

"There were many important lessons learned from the events of that day that have helped us to become better prepared as a nation and as a local community," he said. "For example, HAZMAT - Hazardous Materials - and C.B.R.N.E. - Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive - incident response training, once considered to be a specialty, is now part of the basic training curriculum for all first responders.”

And 9/11 memorials are now part of the landscape, both commemorating those who died on that day 11 years ago and those who gave the last full measure of devotion in the years following the attacks.

"We have viewed the Field of Flags as a prayer chain going from church to church to let families know that those who have made the ultimate sacrifice have not been forgotten," said Anne Kirkpatrick, a Somers Congregational Church member and Field of Flags official. 

Said Cummings, "Each flag is a soldier who died not only to avenge our 9/11 victims, but also a soldier  who paid  the ultimate price for the rest of us. Putting  those flags in the ground is both a way of honoring them and   a way of welcoming them home."

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