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Project aims to fill Schaghticoke field with flags honoring veterans

The Park of Honor in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 2014.
Jim Levulis
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The Park of Honor in downtown Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 2014.

A group in Schaghticoke, New York wants to fill the football field at Hoosic Valley Central School with 1,000 American flags in honor of area veterans this Memorial Day weekend. The so-called field of honor will include 3' by 5' flags mounted on 7.5' poles each adorned with a veteran’s name and what they did in service to the country. The field will be lit at night under the watchful eyes of area Boy Scouts. WAMC's Jim Levulis spoke with project co-chair Marilou Pudiak-Town about the effort.

Pudiak-Town: We are trying to do an event that will honor our veterans in a way that has not been done in the Capital District. And that is, we want to make it personal. We all stand on a curb and watch a parade go by and cheer our veterans. We might recognize a face or two, but we don't know what they did. And we can do the same thing in a cemetery. We can hear a name, but we don't know what they did for us. So we are asking people to tell us what that person did while in service. And that's going to be pegged on each flag so that people can read exactly what the person did in honor of our country.

Levulis: And how many flags are you aiming to fill on the football field at Hoosick Valley Central School in Schaghticoke?

Pudiak-Town: At this point, we have ordered 1,000 flags, but we're hoping to sell more. Whatever we do sell before shipping date on May 1, we are going to order more than that number. But we can't guarantee availability for people who want to purchase after that date.

Levulis: And how much are the flags and where does the money go?

Pudiak-Town: The flags are $40 apiece, and the money is all going to go towards the Patriot Flight. It's a national organization, we have a local chapter, and they will fly our veterans down to Washington, DC to view their monuments.

Levulis: And I understand the public viewing for this field of honor is going to launch on Memorial Day weekend. Will those flags stay up beyond the weekend or are they just for that weekend?

Pudiak-Town: The flags are going to be installed on Wednesday the [May] 25th. We have a large group of volunteers coming to do the installation, including the Patriot Guard Riders and a number of other volunteers. On the 26th, we chose to have this done at Hoosick Valley because we wanted it at a school and on the 26th, the teachers will bring the students out to walk through the field, read the tags and talk to veterans. On the 27th, Friday, the field becomes open to the public from 9 a.m. to 9pm for Friday through Monday. On Friday evening, we will have an opening ceremony. The opening ceremony will include a Color Guard, a prayer, a speaker and a singer. And then on Monday field again opens at 9 a.m. and at 10 o'clock we're going to have the closing ceremony will where we will retire the colors. The Naval cadets from Albany will be there in full dress uniform, and they're going to assist people on that day to come back to the field and pick up their flags and the Naval cadets will assist them in rolling up the flags and carrying them to their cars. By nine o'clock at night we hope that the field is empty, and all the flags will be on their way home.

Levulis: And where did the idea for this event in Schaghticoke come from? I know other communities even in the WAMC listening area, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, have done a field of honor like this, how about for this particular event?

Pudiak-Town: Well this one is going to be a little different than what you have seen in the local area. I got the idea from my hometown Auburn. Auburn has done this three times in the last 12 years. They work with Colonial Flag Foundation where all of our orders will go through Colonial flags, and the flags all calm shipped at one point there'll be delivered to the Schaghticoke Fairgrounds in boxes. We will have a group of people on May 14 assemble the flags. They'll be stored at the Fairgrounds until the day that we assemble them. But in Auburn, what makes it different from what probably other people have seen in our area is that the flags will carry a tag. And the tag will identify who the flag was purchased in honor of. The flag will carry information such as the veteran’s name, the branch of service they served, their rank, where they served, or the war they served in, and most importantly, 20 words or less a little bit of information about what they did while they were in service. And that's what's going to make it different and unique and personal.

Levulis: If I'm interested in supporting this project, in buying a flag for a family member or a loved one, a friend, how do I go about doing that?

Pudiak-Town: Well, there are a couple of ways you can call me. We've had a number of people who do not have computers. That's generally the older population, you can call me at my phone number at 518-423-5281. I've had a couple of gentlemen come to the house and we filled out forms at my dining room table. We can fill them out over the phone. Most people though, will find it convenient to go to our webpage. The Colonial flag Foundation has set up a webpage for us. And that is located at healingfield.org. And when you get to the website, you click on “Find an event” that will take you to a map and you click on the read that over Albany and that will take you right to our webpage. On our webpage, you can find a tab that says “order a flag”, it can be paid for through PayPal, credit card, or you can mail in a check for those who choose not to use the internet. It has the complete order form, has a phone number if they need to call me for more information. It also gives you information, there's a tab that will direct you to the Patriot Flight so you can find out more about them. We also have on our website, all of our literature, our trifold, our poster, press releases and a little bit more information, a gallery, so people can see what the field will look like when it's established.

The hardest part for people to determine what to put on the order form is to fill in a box. And the box is asking people to fill in what these people did while they were in the service. For example, people are either leaving that box blank, or they're filling in information such as this person, this veteran won awards and commendations, but we don't know what they were doing when they won those awards. One woman wrote in that it was a flag in honor of herself and her husband. They were in the Army in the 50s. But they left the box blank. So I called her and I asked her, ‘What did you do in the service?’ And she said, ‘Well, I was in cryptology.’ I thought cryptology, oh my goodness, yes. Back in the 1950s she was in the Army, and she was stationed in Oregon. And she worked primarily on fingerprints. I thought, well, that's got to go on the tag. And I asked her ‘What did your husband do?’ Well, he served on board ships, and he was involved in Operation Wigwam. Well, I've talked to a lot of people about Operation Wigwam, and nobody knows what it was. And she explained to me that during the 50s, the US was trying to determine the effect of a nuclear bomb on a submarine. And he was onboard a ship that detonated a nuclear bomb off the coast of San Diego in the 50s. I thought, well, that's got to go on the tag. When the students come out of the school and wander through the fields, we want them to know that there are specific jobs that need to be done. And that is just one example. Now another example is a woman had written in information about the name and Vietnam and that he, in the box, all she wrote down was that he was killed in action. And I knew this would be a difficult conversation. But I called her and I asked, what was he doing? It was a lovely conversation. She is president of the Gold Star Mothers in Albany. It was her son, he was killed in action in Vietnam. And he was 21. He was a helicopter pilot. And he died his third week of his tour of duty in Vietnam. And I thought those are the things that we want to put on the tag. We want people to read that tag, pause, think about what it was like for him when he was fighting, and also to think about the family, because the family also gives a lot. I remember when my brother went to Vietnam, you could hear a pin drop in our house for days. Nobody could talk, because there's a lot more to a person going in the service than the glory that we see on computer games and in the flag waving that we see in parades. And we want people to know there is a very personal side to this.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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