Field of Honor: American flag display pays tribute to hundreds of heroes
By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector
Sunday, May 19, 2019
As a band played in tribute, Lyn Haddock walked among hundreds of American flags on Friday, searching for the name of his hero. Finding it, he read aloud, Albert Ray Haddock.
He never met his uncle. The young soldier died while crossing the Rhine River two months before Lyn was born. He never visited his grave. Albert is buried among more than 5,000 American soldiers in Luxembourg-Hamm American Military Cemetery in Europe. But nearly 75 years after Albert's death, Lyn has seen to it that an American flag flies in his uncle's memory at the Town Common.
The flag is among 500 on display at the Field of Honor. In its second year, the field is designed to give people a chance to fly flags for their heroes.
“Many times this term (hero) is used to describe military service members,” U.S. Army veteran Tom Pauling said at the opening ceremony, which featured Mayor P.J. Connelly and Sheriff Paula Dance, along with the Tar River Community Band. “But it can also be used to describe anyone who works hard for the betterment of his or her community. … We come in contact with heroes every day.”
Sponsored by the Greenville Noon Rotary, the field also serves as a fundraiser for a half dozen community organizations, including Girl Scouts, the American Red Cross, Daughters of the American Revolution and Rebuilding Together. Flags will remain on display for eight weeks.
Field of Honor traces its roots to 2002 when a flag company president created Healing Field, a 3,000-flag display to honor those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks. Today, Rotary clubs and other organizations host hundreds of displays across the country each year.
“This has a huge visual and emotional impact on people,” said Stephen Walsh, past president of Greenville Noon Rotary and coordinator of the local Field of Honor. “It's not often that you can walk out in a field and stand among 500 American flags.”
Crystal Hildenbrand believes it is the kind of thing her father, Bruce Hildenbrand, would have loved to have seen. On Friday, Crystal, her mother, Debra, and sister, Brandi Insetta, along with Brandi's children, Camryn and Brycen, came to see the field. They paused to take pictures of the flag they sponsored in Bruce’s memory.
“He took a lot of pride in being in the military, he really, really did,” Crystal said of her father, a Vietnam veteran and former Marine Corps gunnery sergeant. “He would have been here.”
Edith Pope and her son, Steven, also searched the field to find the flag that honored husband and father Jack Pope.
He served tours in Korea and Vietnam, where wounds would put an end to his promising career in baseball. Still, he remained loyal to his country, serving 26 years in the Army, followed by a 21-year career as a JROTC instructor at D.H. Conley High School.
Albert Haddock did not have a long military career. He was only 19 when he was killed in World War II, but decades after his death, his family remembers him.
Lyn Haddock, viewing the Field of Honor for the first time, was comforted to see that other veterans like his uncle were not forgotten.
“I was so afraid to come here and find just a few flags and no one here,” Haddock said. “I'm just so impressed with all of this. It just does my heart good.”
While most of the 130 flags sponsored so far honor military veterans, there are others that pay tribute to different heroes. Among them are flags dedicated to Red Cross volunteers who came to the aid of eastern North Carolina in the wake of Hurricane Florence. Another was given in memory of former U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones Jr., who died earlier this year.
“For his years of selfless dedication and service to the people of eastern North Carolina,” it reads, “A true patriot, you are missed.”
As an Air Force veteran, Walsh believes the flags are a fitting tribute for any hero, not just those who served in the armed forces.
“For a veteran, one of the most meaningful beliefs that we have is protecting other people's freedoms,” he said. “That flag is seen as a symbol for all of us. I would never look at the American flag and think of it as a military flag. To me, it's always a flag that represents everyone.”
Walsh has seen flags honoring teachers, coaches and family members. Other honorees at this year's Field of Honor include doctors and nurses, a pastor and a police detective. One flag pays tribute to the local library.
“A hero is a very personal thing,” Walsh said. “They set themselves apart from other folks in our lives because of the huge impact that they have. That doesn't necessarily mean sacrificing their lives as a veteran might or a police officer or a fireman. I think a personal hero is someone you deeply admire and who has had a lasting impact on you.”
Flags are $30 each and are available for purchase at greenvilleflagfield.com. Flags will remain on display at the Town Common, 100 E. First St., until July 13. There is no charge for visiting the display.