When Art Medina walked onto the inaugural Field of Valor in Orange’s Handy Park last year, the U.S. Marine, who served three tours in Iraq, had a transformational experience.
“As I entered the field, a gust of wind came, and all of the flags swept up to stand at attention. I immediately thought of the brothers I’d lost in Iraq, and I became very emotional,” says Medina. “Never in my life (outside of the military or television) had I seen such patriotism. Everyone I saw on the field had tears in their eyes. I’ve seen death and experienced PTSD, and that magical moment was one of the most healing of my life.”
Medina’s reaction is just the sort of response that Gary Remland, Community Foundation of Orange (CFO) President and Field of Valor Committee Chairman, hoped for when he spearheaded the annual event to occur again this year during the week of Veterans Day.
“Although I wasn’t sure what to expect prior to last year’s event, it turned out to be a great community project where the citizens of Orange came together to create a reverent, powerful place of healing and appreciation for veterans, who made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure our freedom,” says Remland of the field containing 1,776 8-foot-tall flags that could be purchased for $35 each to commemorate a veteran. Last year’s event raised more than $30,000 for local veteran causes.
“When you walk onto the field and see all of the flags commemorating our nation’s veterans, you get a sense of awe that’s hard to describe until you are there and feel it,” says Susie Cunningham, Executive Director of the CFO. “It’s very powerful to watch the veterans come on the field and see them paralyzed with so many emotions. One Vietnam veteran walked up to me with tears in his eyes. When I asked what I could do for him, he said, ‘You’ve done it. No one has ever thanked me for my service before.’ ”
So affected was Medina by the experience that he decided to help veterans by starting his own organization, Field of Honor Foundation. Funds raised through the foundation, such as with the 648.5-mile walkathon he recently completed, help veterans—in particular Gold Star Families (families of those who have died at war.) Petals for Patriots is part of Medina’s and his co-founder, Aubrey Chapman’s, efforts. This program sends flowers to the mothers of fallen service members on their children’s birthdays.
Medina’s story is one of many that illustrates how the Field of Valor took on a life of its own, notes Cunningham, who types up the tags that are attached to the flags and reveal each service member’s military information and story. “Many community members are volunteering, and that is wonderful,” she says.
Remland agrees. “We’re seeing a lot of nonprofit groups offering their services in the form of flag sponsoring and volunteer hours. Many people want to give of their time and talent, including the Sons of the Revolution, who will do a flag lowering ceremony for the closing.”
Other new additions to this year’s Field of Valor include an Event Tent, where local groups can hold meetings and students from area schools can come and learn more about the flag’s history and what it means to be American. There will also be a “Visit with a Vet” area and a place where visitors can write thank you notes to active duty servicemen/women that will be distributed by A Million Thanks.
“I can’t wait to see what this year holds for the Field of Valor,” says Remland. “No doubt we’ll see and hear more stories, more understanding and hopefully more healing.”
The Field of Valor will be held from Saturday, November 5th through Friday, November 11th (Veterans Day) from 10 am to 8 pm daily at Handy Park, 2143 E. Oakmont Ave. in Orange.
Opening Ceremonies will be held November 6th at 1 pm, and the Flag Lowering Ceremony will take place each night at 4:45 pm, with a special Closing Ceremony on Friday, November 11th at 4:45 pm.
For information on sponsoring a flag or volunteering, visit www.communityfoundationoforange.org.