Volunteers erect one American flag

Volunteers erect one American flag for each of the 2,996 Americans who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

One of the East Valley’s longest running traditions memorializing the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks will again unfold this week at Tempe Beach Park.

The Healing Field – a somber display of 2,996 American flags honoring each of the victims who died 20 years ago – is an annual remembrance sponsored by the Exchange Club of Tempe and the Valley of the Sun Exchange Foundation.

Each flag bears a yellow ribbon and a small biography about the victim it commemorates.

The Healing Field is an all-volunteer endeavor. 

Volunteers are welcome to show up at the park at 6 a.m. Friday, Sept. 10, to help set up the 8-foot flags on rebar and attach a bio card.

At 6:30 p.m. Friday, a Freedom Concert will feature the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Arizona Band and the Manhattan Dolls of Tucson.

Starting at 5:30 a.m. Saturday, the Healing Field Tribute will be held in which the names of each victim will be read. That will be followed at 7 p.m. with a candlelight vigil with speakers.

On Sunday, Sept. 12, the Tunnel to Towers 5K Run/Walk will be held at the beach starting at 7:30 a.m. Register at dogood.t2t.org/event/2021-tunnel-to-towers-5k-run-and-walk-tempe-az/e337587

Volunteers also are needed at 8 a.m. Monday, Sept. 13, for the Stand Down, during which they’ll remove the flags and put them away for another year.

“The Healing Field transforms the park into a place of reverence, of common ground, where you feel connected to each of the people you are standing next to or paying respects to,” organizers state on a City of Tempe webpage. “Each year at first glimpse of the flags it takes our breath away.”

“The Exchange Club of Tempe is the force behind this incredible memorial. Their attention to detail is truly remarkable,” it continues. 

“The first responders’ flag poles are respectfully placed along the perimeter, continuing to ‘protect and serve’ even in death. Gary Eugene Bird, the only resident of Arizona who perished on Sept. 11, has a small Arizona flag at the base of his flag pole. 

“Additionally, the stuffed bears you see at the base of flag poles identify the children who died that day, and combat boots recognize veterans who have perished. Each pair of boots were donated by a military veteran.”

Each year organizers also make the Healing Field a Teaching Field, noting there are many who were not born until after that dark day.

“The old tattered schoolbooks that most kids have don’t even contain this important part of our history. We’ve heard many kids ask why on Sept. 11 their school didn’t so much as mention it. That is unacceptable. Bring your children to the Healing Fields. There is an information booth and posters that detail the timeline of events that day.” 

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