Originally published in The Weekly Packet, May 29, 2014
Ten-year anniversary of Field of Flags has emphasis on loss of veterans
Flags representing the number of U.S. and Maine lives lost in wars fought in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan stand in a field on Main Street in Blue Hill, Maine. The field was planted with flags on Saturday, May 24.
by Ruby Nash
Members of the Peninsula Peace & Justice group gathered along with members of Deer Isle Peace & Justice at the Field of Flags event in Blue Hill on Sunday, May 25. They planted flags in honor of the 6,776 soldiers who have been killed during the conflicts in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, to pay tribute to the 1.4 million civilians who have lost their lives.
While the small white flags fluttered in the wind, a new statistic was of grave concern. The opening words from Dud Hendrick, Vietnam Veteran, U.S. Naval Academy Graduate, member of Deer Isle Peace and Justice, and instructor of Peace Studies at the University of Maine, cited a troubling statistic with attendees. In 2010, an average of 22 veterans committed suicide each day. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reported this fact in 2013, and the number is estimated to be higher today.
While the weather was warm and sunny, the mood at the Field of Flags was muted by the gravity of the new information and the task at hand. Members of PPJ and volunteers planted 3,000 white surveyor’s flags to honor the nearly 7,000 U.S. soldiers killed in recent conflicts.
“The real point is to illustrate the cost of war,” said Judy Robbins, co-organizer of the event. “We talk about the financial and political costs of war, but the additional cost of war is [lives]. Each one of these [flags] represents a loss to a family and to a whole community that will be borne forever.”
Rows of white flags now take up a small plot between the Blue Hill Memorial Library and the Blue Hill Congregational Church, on land owned by the family of Rufus Wanning, a longtime supporter of PPJ.
“Recently the rationale attributed to the phenomenon of increased veterans’ suicides is the idea of ‘moral injury’ or ‘moral wounds,’” Hendrick said. “Soldiers are being called upon to do things that are in violation of anyone’s moral code. The awareness of what they’ve done weighs upon them. They ask themselves ‘Am I really making sacrifices for the security of this country?’”
A longtime peace activist, Hendrick lost a best friend and nine classmates from the U.S. Naval Academy during the Vietnam War. He and others from that era are seeking inroads to the new generation of veterans. They are reaching out through organizations such as Veterans for Peace, which is offering scholarships to young veterans interested in attending their annual convention.
Marcia Kola, of Deer Isle, planted flags along with other volunteers. “We used to get the finger and a lot of swearing at us after 9/11,” she said. “Now we have much more support. Things [are changing].”
Starr Gilmartin, who also planted flags on Sunday, had this to add, “Before we start another conflict, people should come here and soak this in. These flags represent someone’s son, daughter, brother, or husband…and they’re not coming back.”