Petty Officer 3rd Class John Magsipoc
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - A miniature forest of flags began unfurling on the front lawn of a Virginia Beach church last month.
Placed one by one, the field of more than 3,000 flags was assembled to honor service members killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Bell, pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church and chaplain at Joint Task Force Civil Support on Fort Monroe, Va., said the field of flags outside his church door serves as a symbol of appreciation to troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Next to the flags is a display board that bears the rank, name, hometown and state of each American death.
“Each flag represents a life lost in the Afghanistan and Iraq war as well as that person’s loss to their family and community,” Bell said. “A few of the flags here represent the men I conducted memorial ceremonies for while I was in Iraq.”
In 2005, the Virginia Army National Guard chaplain deployed to LSA Anaconda/Balad, Iraq for nine months and served with the 40th Corps Support Group of the California Army National Guard.
He first saw the flag exhibit in Iraq in a picture sent to him in December 2005 by his church members, who hosted the display last year. He shared the emotionally moving picture not only with the commander of his unit but also with the general under whom he served.
“They were all very impressed by a congregation that would honor in a specific and visual way the sacrifice we were all making at that time while we were in Iraq,” Bell said. “I was honored to be the pastor of a church that, while divided in its opinions on the war, is united in its support of the men and women who have been sent to fight in it.”
Nancy Lindgren, a church member who helped bring the “field of flags” to Virginia Beach, hopes the display gets people’s attention as they go down Providence Road.
“It’s very touching,” Lindgren said. “I’ve talked to many who found loved ones on the board and I know it’s very difficult for them to see that here, but I can’t even begin to understand the grief that they feel.”
The display arrived Dec. 16. Bell, Lindgren, church members and volunteers spent a day planting the two-foot-tall flags. Lindgren said the display has attracted hundreds of visitors across Hampton Roads region in Virginia. She said visitors left gifts and mementos: heartwarming notes, letters, condolence cards, and personal possessions.
“We had a mother of a fallen soldier come back and give me a bracelet of her son with his name engraved on it,” Lindgren said. “It’s so wonderful to know that strangers are thinking of our soldiers and honoring them in such a patriotic way.”
Norfolk resident Evelyn Hill, a widow of a World War II and Vietnam veteran, was impressed and touched by the display. She drove to the Providence Presbyterian church to take pictures of the display after seeing it on a local TV news report.
“This is a way of taking a stand and showing patriotism to support our troops as much as I can and I don’t mind showing it,” said Hill, who was attending a church service at the Providence Presbyterian Church for the first time. “I commend this group for putting up this display.”
The display was dedicated in October 2005 by Members of the Memorial Garden Committee of the Somers Congregational Church in Somers, Conn. Lindgren’s sister is a member of that congregation.
Lindgren’s sister came up with the idea of loaning the field of flags to the Providence Presbyterian Church after conditions in Somers made the ground too hard to insert new flags and was difficult to maintain.
The exhibit has been traveling to different locations, mostly in the east coast. The congregation put out a flag each time a soldier has been killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. They check the Defense Department’s website to update their numbers.
Lindgren said she welcomes everyone to visit the display, which is scheduled to remain at the Providence church lawn until mid February. The field of flags exhibit is displayed at the Providence Presbyterian Church at 5497 Providence Road in Virginia Beach.
“I tell them how brave I think they (the servicemembers) are,” Lindgren said. “They’re heroes in my eyes that they have given a sacrifice and everybody has been so positive and appreciative when they see the flags.”