May is a month of patriotic celebrations. I unfurl my ribbon-adorned hats, and carefully select all the red, white and blue, flag-waving, troops-praising clothing I so proudly own. And, befitting any patriotic event, I even have a special outfit for my dog, Mr. Riley, to wear. Yes, the American flag is front and center on his back and appears to wave as he wiggles and waggles his way along the parade routes, or even just a celebratory stroll around Balboa Island.
In mid-May, Armed Forces Week cascades across the country. In many larger cities, patriotic events are welcomed, organized and applauded. Here locally, the Exchange Club of Newport Harbor carries the baton, and works tirelessly all year long to create a weekend chock-full of ceremonial events. This group has been in existence for 90 years. Seven years ago, Jerry Nininger created the Field of Honor program, which is a three-day event held at Castaways Park in Newport Beach.
Bill Bechtel later joined Nininger, and both have presided as past presidents and co-chairs of the Exchange Club and the Field of Honor festivities. The Exchange Club has numerous other projects during the year; however, the Field of Honor is truly a special one.
I always watch for the amazing display of flags that are so perfectly placed on the park grounds. Perched high atop the cliffs at Castaways Park (Dover Drive and PCH), the flags flutter in the gentle breeze, as if to be waving to me just below.
I say a little prayer for those who have fought so bravely. I think about those who have sadly passed away and those who are still with us. I am in awe of the freedoms we all enjoy today. We are truly blessed. Imagine a massive display of 1,776 flags, all carefully placed in the park and all around the monument. It is a dramatic and breathtaking sight to behold.
Here are some of the details for the three-day events and the wonderful call for community involvement. I am so pleased they include everyone–from young school-aged children to older adults and, of course, our veterans. I encourage everyone reading this to go to their website and consider dedicating a flag to someone who has served our country so proudly. Volunteers will place the flags in the park beginning on Wednesday, May 18th. They will include a yellow ribbon denoting the military person’s name, rank and branch of service and will be displayed all three days, from Friday through Sunday. During the weekend, guests who have dedicated a flag can add a picture, a poem or other memento to their flagpole, if they wish. After the event, those making tributes can take their dedicated flag and pole home with them. And, most importantly, the funds raised, as in years past, will support the following organizations: Wounded Warrior Project, Fisher House Foundation, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines Division (the battalion adopted in 2003 by the City of Newport Beach) and Coastline Community College Military Programs. NHExchange.net.
On Friday, May 20th, 2016, the program is focused on patriotism and our youth. More than 800 5th and 6th graders will be bused in from the Newport-Mesa School District for an educational event with special speakers, music and an educational celebration at the park. Saturday’s program on May 21st will begin at Noon and will include a formal presentation by local dignitaries. The Presentation of Colors will be executed by the Marine Corps Color Guard from Camp Pendleton, followed by other musical performances and tributes. On Sunday, May 22nd, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., it will be “Honor Our Vets” day, and guests can come and meet (and hopefully thank) vets who have so graciously agreed to be there. Sprinkled all around the park with umbrellas and chairs, come have a chat and meet a vet. Here is your chance to meet and thank a vet personally.
And, right on the heels of this great weekend of festivities will come Memorial Day, the Balboa Island Parade in early June, Fourth of July and, of course, Labor Day! So, let’s do this! Let’s honor our vets and show our patriotism. Wave our flags proudly. Mr. Riley and I will be there at the Field of Honor in all our red, white and blue finery. Hope to see you out there as well!
Deirdre Michalski is a travel and culinary writer covering topics near and far. You can read more about her adventures on her website TastesAndTravel.com