Field of honor: Flags in tribute to veterans, service members, first responders and their spouses

  • Don Rippetoe, of Southampton, from left, Bruce Zeitler, of Florence, and Ray Capers, of Northampton, take a measurement while constructing the first annual Stars and Stripes Field of Honor, Monday, May 20, 2019 at Northampton Elks Lodge 997. All are veterans and members of the lodge. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Don Rippetoe, of Southampton, places a flag while constructing the first annual Stars and Stripes Field of Honor, Monday, at Northampton Elks Lodge 997. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Don Rippetoe, of Southampton, carries a flag to its place while constructing the first annual Stars and Stripes Field of Honor, Monday, May 20, 2019 at Northampton Elks Lodge 997. Bruce Zeitler, left, of Florence, helped him. Both are veterans and members of the lodge. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Don Rippetoe, front, of Southampton, places a flag as Ray Capers, of Northampton, readies a support for another, while constructing the first annual Stars and Stripes Field of Honor, Monday, May 20, 2019 at Northampton Elks Lodge 997. Both are veterans and members of the lodge. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 5/22/2019 8:29:15 PM

NORTHAMPTON — As the weather gets warmer, people driving down Spring Street near the Elks Lodge will be met with a striking sight: a field of American flags meant to honor veterans, service members and first responders, as well as their spouses.

“We’ve had people pull over,” said Don Rippetoe, president of Northampton Lodge of Elks No. 997. “We see people weeping.” Rippetoe said that he has also seen people laugh in happiness in reaction to the display of flags.

Northampton Lodge of Elks No. 997, which is hosting the flag display on its land, has partnered with Northampton Veterans’ Services Department to create the Stars and Stripes Honor Field. The field is part of the Field of Honor Program, which grew out of the Healing Field of flags that was erected in Sandy, Utah by Paul Swenson, president of the Colonial Flag company, to honor those who had lost their lives in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Rippetoe, who lives in Southampton, said that the nation coming together around the American flag was one of the first positive expressions to emerge after 9/11.

“In our darkest moment, we found a way to come together,” said Rippetoe, who served more than 24 years in the United States Navy, where he was part of its submarine force and reached the rank of master chief.

Asked about his reaction to Northampton’s field, Rippetoe said, “The solemn nature of it strikes me.”

Fields of Honor provide people the opportunity to purchase flags to honor loved ones who have served or are serving the country. The Stars and Stripes Honor Field is the only honor field in western Massachusetts, Rippetoe said. It is also the first field to honor the spouses of those who have served or are serving.

“This is the inaugural season here,” Rippetoe said.

Most of the flags in Northampton’s field honor a specific person. One of the honorees died on 9/11 while four of the honorees died in action. Those honored in the field have served as far back as World War I.

An event at 5 p.m. on Friday will pay tribute to the veterans who have died with flowers and handmade ribbons being placed at their flags on the field, and will also feature a public walkthrough.

Individuals and organizations can purchase honor flags at levels ranging from $50 for a single flag to $2,500 for 15. All proceeds will go to veteran and first responder services.

Those who wish to buy a flag but cannot afford one can contact Veterans’ Services about receiving financial support to do so.

So far, 120 of the initial 150 flags for the field have been claimed. However, Rippetoe said that the field can hold up to 650 flags if there is the interest.

Steven Connor, who heads the Northampton Veterans’ Services Department, said that he has purchased flags in honor of his father, mother, brother and several uncles.

Connor also said that the flag is for everyone.

“It’s your flag,” he said. “They’re out there for everybody.”

Connor noted that a committee has been formed to keep the initiative going, although it won’t necessarily always be in the same location.

“We’re going to do it every year,” he said.

The field started up on May 18 and is set to run through July 13, when it will culminate with a celebratory barbecue at which sponsors can pick up their flags. Rippetoe said that assistance is also available for those who would like to display their honor flags at their homes.

“If they choose,” he said, “they can take them home and continue the tribute.”

 Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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