NORTH TONAWANDA – This year Americans will mark the 15th anniversary of one their darkest days, as they remember those who gave their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.
The enormity of that loss will be on display along the Niagara River in Gratwick Riverside Park, Sept. 9-11, in a “Healing Field” with 3,000 U.S. flags on display – each one tagged with the name of a person who lost their life in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the crash of Flight 93 in rural Pennsylvania.
But the event, which is sponsored by the Exchange Club of the Tonawandas and the Erie-Niagara Sunrise Exchange Club, also needs support from the public.
Each flag needs a local sponsor, which can be a name of a loved one, a first responder, a veteran, a volunteer, a community servant, or another deserving person, and their name will also be tagged on the American-made 3x5 foot cloth flag. When the event is over, sponsors will be able to keep their flag and the eight-foot pole.
The cost is $25 and every penny raised will benefit local veteran’s groups.
Robert Pecoraro, a member of the Healing Field steering committee and a North Tonawanda alderman at-large, as well as a retired colonel who served 30 years in the U.S. Air Force, said they have sold 600 flags.
“We are happy at the response of the community so far. When they hear about it they want to do whatever it takes to support us,” said Pecoraro. “Right now our biggest challenge is getting the word out.”
He said it was Ron Sciandra, event chairman, who thought they could do a display this large in Western New York.
“We are the first ones to do this in Western New York,” said Pecoraro. He said Rochester has planned a 200 flag Healing Field event.
“Each flag will have a tag with the name of someone who gave their life during the tragedy during 9/11,” along with the name of someone the sponsor wants recognized on each flag,” said Pecoraro.
An opening ceremony will be held at 6 p.m. on Sept. 9 to recognize fallen Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. On Sept. 10, at 10 a.m.,organizers will pay tribute to fallen Vietnam Veterans, which will be followed by a motorcycle run with the Patriot Riders. At mid-morning on Sept. 11 the names of those who lost their lives in the terrorist attack will be read and a moment of silence observed, and at 2 p.m. there will be a ceremony to pay tribute to all local veterans and emergency responders, which will be followed by a closing ceremony and concert.
Mark Onesi, of Niagara Falls, a retired colonel who was in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, will be the guest speaker for the anniversary event.
“It will be beautiful, said Pecoraro of the display.” But it will also be a very somber day as we reflect on what happened 15 years ago in that attack on the United States.”
Healing Field was started by the Colonial Flag Company in 2002 in Sandy, Utah. Nearly 400 Healing Fields displays have been organized since that first event and more than $6 million has been raised for various service, civic and other nonprofit organizations throughout the country.
Sciandra, a 30-year member and former president of the Erie-Niagara Sunrise Exchange Club, said he heard about Healing Field as exchange clubs across the nation picked up the idea as one of their “Americanism Programs.”
“I’ve thought about it over the past 10-12 years and thought it was something we should or could do here – with the Buffalo Naval Park, a lot of veterans and the Air Force Base in Niagara Falls. It’s perfect for our community because I know how our community really loves its veterans,” said Sciandra.
He said they looked a various locations, but in Gratwick Riverside Park on River Road, the display can be seen from the road and from the water.
Sciandra admitted the task of finding sponsors for 3,000 flags was “daunting,” but said for $25 you get the flag, the pole and rebar, and a chance to help local veterans organizations.
He said everyone he has spoken to are surprised that it has been 15 years since the 9/11 terrorism attacks, but this display will “really make them think about where they were that day.”
Sciandra encourages everyone to buy a flag in advance, but he said they will continue to sell and tag remaining flags at the event.
Companies and organizations can also sponsor the event at differing levels, ranging from $1,000 to the $25,000 “Freedom” level, which will include special recognition in promotional materials, a full-page ad in the event program, reserved seating, a corporate banner and website recognition, as well as 100 American flags.
In-kind sponsors are needed to provide bottled water, photography, stage lighting, chairs and tables, T-shirts, hats, program printing, office supplies and banners.
Volunteers are also being sought for the day of the event to attach names to flags and place and remove flags.
To learn more about donating and volunteering, email Sciandra at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can purchase a flag on the day of the event, or in advance by sending a check with “Healing Field” in the memo to Exchange Club of the Tonawandas, P.O. Box 1, Tonawanda, NY, 14150 or online at www.healingfield.org/northtonawanda16/, www.erieniagaraexchange.com or North Tonawanda Healing Field 2016 on Facebook.