Naperville came together to recognize their veterans at this year’s Healing Field on Rotary Hill. The theme is 50 Years of Healing, marking the anniversary of the start of the Vietnam War.
For the third time Naperville has created the Healing Field and in less than an hour, 2,015 flags were installed along the hillside to get ready for the opening memorial service.
“We owe you, our veterans, a debt of gratitude that we will never be able to repay, for your pain and suffering that you endured for America. We owe you everything,” said Healing Field Chairperson Marty Walker.
To help commemorate the 50 years, Ray Kinney of Blooming Colors, the Naperville Park District, the VFW and the American Legion built a scale model of the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Wall displaying over 58,000 names of the lives that were lost during the war.
“It’s hard to explain what it felt like when you served your country and nobody seemed to give a damn. And that’s part of the reason why we built this wall, to let these families know that we respect the dead and we’ll do what we can for them,” said Vietnam veteran Jack Schiffler.
In addition to the wall, the Healing Field committee honored the 11 Naperville men that died in Vietnam with a special plaque. During the ceremony, high school students read a brief biography of each man as a veteran stood guard and placed a flag in their memory.
“It’s nice. It feels good to be in a community that respects that and takes the time and honors this. This is a lot of work, and I think just a small portion that can give back to what they gave us. So we appreciate it,” said Naperville resident Steve Grosskopf.
Guest speaker and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Allen Lynch emphasized that Vietnam vets have been on the forefront of welcoming home other veterans, despite their past experiences.
“We have a lot to be proud of, we who served our country in Vietnam. Did we suffer? You bet we did. Were we victimized? Yes, we were forgotten by our country. But we swore that never again would that happen to any other veterans that served. Never again,” said Lynch.
After the service, many veterans stayed to tour the field and the wall. Chicago resident and Vietnam veteran Carlos Saladino heard about Naperville’s memorial service on the news and wanted to be a part of it.
“I served first with the 25TH division, second in the 27th. You have to feel for all these young men and what they could have been or where they would have been now, and the families and the grandchildren, like myself. Not that it’s survivors guilt, but I’m here for a reason,” said Saladino.
Each flag in the Healing Field can be purchased and dedicated to a veteran or someone who is currently serving. Local resident Dave Wentz chose to recognize someone from his past high school experience.
“As I was growing up, in maybe 7th or 8th grade, I started hearing about this one guy who was commended for being the original hitter. It was a guy named Bruce Capel. He died in Vietnam in 1966, but before he did that he played football at the University of Illinois at a time when there was another player there; number 51 for the Bears, Dick Butkus, who was a teammate of his and they played together. He happened to play the same position, so he learned his role, and to this day, Dick Butkus has said that this guy, Bruce Capel, was the best player he’s ever played with as a teammate,” said Wentz.
The Healing Field of Honor will be on Rotary Hill from November 7th through the 12th and a Veterans Day ceremony will be held at the Carillon Tower on Wednesday at 11am.
Naperville News 17’s Rachel Pierson reports.
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