Through our lens: Stars, stripes and sacrifice 

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  • This flag in the Field of Honor at the Elks Lodge of Northampton is dedicated with a carnation and gold ribbon to the memory of Air Force Master Sergeant Ed Keefe, who served from 1953 to 1963 and 1983 to 1997. Photographed on Memorial Day. The 256 flags of the Stars & Stripes Field of Honor were installed outside the lodge in Florence last week and will remain in place through September 24. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Amherst Regional High School graduating seniors Richita Randhir, left, and Annabelle Olendzki walk through a display on the Amherst Common on Tuesday that shows all of the graduates individually. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS 

  • Taneka Mintzer of Easthampton, from left, Karina Schrengohst of Easthampton and Kate Scoles of West Springfield wear inflatable unicorn costumes while waiving to passing traffic last Friday at Pulaksi Park in Easthampton. “We want to make people smile,” Schrengohst said. “We’re a couple of renegade unicorns,” Scoles added. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mo Ryan is reflected in a downtown Northampton storefront as she and other workers with LandScapes, LLC, tend the newly installed planters on Main Street last Friday.  STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Individuals and families enjoying the warm weather at the DAR State Forest in Goshen. The signs state that all picnic areas are closed and advise visitors to maintain social distancing while in the park. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bella, a 4-year-old Maltese-Havanese/Shih Tzu mix, fetches a stick while on a walk by the Mill River in Northampton with her owner, Pat Dolci, of New Jersey and Dolci’s daughter, Kristin Dolci, of Northampton last Thursday. Dolci said she loves visiting, adding, “You can’t come to Northampton and not enjoy yourself.” STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Rev. Paul Norman, left, of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish, hears confessions under a birch tree in the parking lot of the Northampton church before Mass last Saturday. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Photographer
Published: 5/28/2020 10:32:55 AM

Memorial Day was quite different this year. The Florence parade, in its 152nd year, was still held, though scaled down and not advertised in order to discourage large gatherings. But I had a different type of “memorial” assignment last week as I photographed volunteers at the Northampton Elks Lodge putting the finishing touches on the second Stars & Stripes Field of Honor. The display is an array of 256 flags in recognition of veterans and service members as well as first responders and spouses. As the crew of four made ribbons, assembled flag poles and set them in the field prior to the Memorial Day weekend, I got to visit with lodge president Don Rippetoe. He told me of their work over the previous three weeks setting the arrangement of flag posts 2 feet into the ground outside the lodge: “That field out there is no stranger to rocks.” But he also spoke at length about the powerful experience that visitors to the site have, especially those who have dedicated individual flags to loved ones.

It sometimes starts as they fill out the form for the dedication. “At first, they’re thinking, ‘It’s all good, that’s easy.’ Then they start talking about who is on that piece of paper and they’re transported back in time — and all of a sudden it hits them,” he said. On the opening weekend last year, the lodge held a ceremonial walk for members who had a fallen veteran in the field — “honor families” as they are known. They were presented with a ribbon and a flower and escorted into the field to adorn their own flag. And there, says Rippetoe, they started talking to one another and supporting one another. “It’s quite a time. They become emotionally charged.”

Rippetoe said there are three elements to the field: grieving, healing and “celebrating the service and sacrifice of the individual.” He says some visitors will get a chair, sit by their flag and talk to their loved one. Last year, some people returned every day over the months-long display. Two children visiting with a Connecticut family went around the field and read aloud from the attached cards that identify the donor and the name and service dates of the individual for whom the flag is dedicated. The flags are set 5 feet apart so that walking through them in a light breeze, you’re almost certain to lose sight of the horizon. Depending on the day, the flags in one section may be motionless and in another part “they’re blowing like crazy,” as Rippetoe describes it. He said the children on this day ran through the field with their hands out, touching the flags as they went.

I went back over several nights to try and capture that random motion of the wind and had some success under the illumination of the solar-powered lights. But my favorite picture is from the evening of Memorial Day. There was absolutely no wind at all, but by then each of the flags had been personalized with a ribbon, a flower and the small paper tag telling a little bit about the person for whom it was dedicated.

Kevin Gutting can be reached at kgutting@gazettenet.com.

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