NEWBURYPORT — A manmade sea of red, white and blue flowed across the Bartlet Mall yesterday as the Exchange Club of Greater Newburyport dedicated the fourth annual Field of Honor.
The flags, over 300 of them this year, were first placed on the Mall in 2009 as a way to commemorate the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the lives lost both on that day and in the ensuing military actions since.
But the parameters have now broadened and are not limited to the military. Firefighters, police officers, EMTs, volunteers, anyone who inspires can be honored with a flag.
“There’s no reason to stop there,” said Exchange Club President Mary Sortal. “We all have people in our lives who have made an impact and we all have people we want to remember. And although the focus is certainly on 9/11 and those people who were innocent victims and those people who serve, we have expanded it. It’s a whole humanity thing.”
Although in the past two years Sortal dedicated flags to her uncle and father for their military service, this year Sortal dedicated a flag her late niece, Katie Orlow.
“She got ill when she was 16 months old and was left handicapped for the rest of her life,” Sortal said of Orlow. “She passed away at 26 years old and the most important thing in helping my sister move on is to let her know that we have not forgotten about her (daughter).”
“Every flag is really a unique story,” said Exchange Club president-elect, Ben Iacono. “It has a unique message behind its dedication. It’s scheduled around the 9/11 anniversary but it’s not exclusively for 9/11. It’s really an opportunity for the community to honor those who made sacrifices for them. Somebody that has done something meaningful.”
Joining Sortal and Iacono among other honored guests were Newburyport Mayor Donna Holaday, state Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives and keynote speaker, Salvation Army Lt. Jeffrey Brunelle.