PALMDALE, Calif.–About 200 people who were feeling it turned out — outdoors, masked (mostly) and distanced, generally, and considerate of others, to the opening of the Field of Healing and honor, a ways and means of honoring American heroes on the path to Veterans Day in a turbulent 2020.
The 2,020 flags honor troops, veterans, first responders, healthcare heroes and opened to the public Nov. 1.
The City of Palmdale and Palmdale Auto Mall Association provided major support, and they were joined by an army of citizen volunteers who spent a couple of days placing the flags in rows of perfection at Pelona Vista Park.
People driving south on the 14 Freeway, and anyone with quiet minutes, or an hour, can visit the field of flags through Nov. 11, Veterans Day.
Among those honored in the rows of flags are the fallen of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also the “AV 76,” the 76 young men from the Antelope Valley who served in the Vietnam War and were killed in action.
People who bought flags through City of Palmdale and Colonial Flag Foundation for $30 honored their family’s heroes. Sales benefit local veterans organizations: American Legion Post 348, Palmdale; VFW Post 3000; Vets4veterans, Point Man Antelope Valley and Coffee4Vets.
With the support of the City Council, the project was spearheaded by City Manager J.J. Murphy, an retired Air Force major who served in the Global War on Terror in the Horn of Africa.
At the Nov. 1 opening ceremony, the Blue Eagles Honor Guard from Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., in dress blue uniforms, marched on stage smartly and presented the colors — as they stood in front of the field of red, white, and blue flags waving in a slight breeze under a bright blue sky.
The city team and volunteers’ initiative was organized by Planning Chair Stacia Bertain Nemeth working with key city staff Annie Pagliaro and Linda Adams Edwards Willis. City Council and Mayor Steve Hofbauer rallied support for concept developed by Murphy.
Keynote speaker was U.S. Rep. Mike Garcia, R-Calif., a veteran Navy fighter pilot who flew missions in Iraq. He gave the crowd assurance that nation could unify even in turbulent times.
He paid tribute to Gold Star and Blue Star families, and praised a World War II veteran at the gathering, noting that America saved the world from tyranny in two world wars of the 20th century, and continues to stand ready to pursue and defend against terrorism in the 21st century.
“The Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, the Coast Guard, will always be ready to defend America, and to protect everyone here,” Garcia said.
Army veteran Dennis Anderson, a licensed clinical social worker at High Desert Medical Group, served as master of ceremonies.
“The flags aren’t waving for decoration,” Anderson said. “They will give people a sense of patriotic lift, we hope.”
Anderson added the flags are there for us to salute and honor people who already their lives on the line for all of us, such as Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Owen and Deputy Stephen Sorensen, and Los Angeles County firefighters Capt. Ted Hall and Arnie Quinones.
Anderson also honored the “baker’s dozen” of sons and a daughter killed while fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the AV 76 from Vietnam, and doctors, nurses, and frontline workers working the COVID-19 wards in hospitals here in the Antelope Valley and across the nation.
He recalled Air Force Capt. Victoria Pinckney Smith, a classmate of his son, Garrett. The two attended kindergarten together at Desert Rose Elementary School, and both graduated Palmdale High School.
“A few years after my son fought with the Marines in Fallujah, Victoria was killed flying a refueling support mission for Afghanistan,” Anderson said.
“These flags are for them,” he said. “That’s why we call it a Field of Healing and Honor. And healing and honor is something we need to be thoughtful and respectful about in these divided times. ”
Elected officials on hand included Palmdale Mayor Steve Hofbauer, City Council Members Laura Bettencourt, Austin Bishop, Juan Carrillo and Mayor Pro Tem Richard Loa.
VFW 3000 Chaplain Fred Villa gave the invocation, and American Legion Area 6 leader Dave Corbin led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Also in attendance were State Sen. Scott Thomas Wilk, Assemblyman Tom Lackey and Assemblywoman Christy Smith. Speakers included Palmdale Sheriff’s Capt. Ron Shaffer, and L.A. County Fire Battalion Chief Chris Siok, who recalled the line-of-duty deaths of firefighters, including Capt. Ted Hall and Arnie Quinones during the 2009 Station Fire.
Wilk said, “I was almost moved to tears just coming down the steps into the park.”
Lackey said, “I don’t like election time, and this one is terrible, but this is something that shows there can be unity, and we can come together as a nation.”
Gus Camacho spoke for Palmdale Auto Mall Association, saying, “It didn’t take long for us to see it, and say, ‘Yes, we want to be involved with this.”
Dick Allen, CEO for Palmdale Regional Medical Center, honored health care workers, noting that during eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic, “They come to work, every day, put their own lives and health on the line, and they do their work, every day.”
The ranking officer attending was Brig. Gen. David Smith, California State Military Reserve commander, who previously served at Edwards AFB.