At Sandy’s 9/11 Healing Field — 3,000 flags, 20 years, one nation

With songs and silence, Utahns unite to remember the fallen and the heroes.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The sun rises on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, as people visit the Utah Healing Field in Sandy, part of the nonprofit Colonial Flag Foundation, which posted 3,000 flags to honor the fallen. The display is free to the public and open through Sept. 13.

Sandy • On Saturday night, in front of 3,000 flags planted in Sandy to honor victims of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, it was silent.

Emily Stevenson’s performance of the national anthem had just finished, and the crowd remained standing, unsure of what would come next. Then, Stevenson spoke — explaining to the crowd that the scheduled U.S. Air Force flyover seemed to be a bit behind. So, she led the crowd in singing “America the Beautiful.”

Right when the crowd got to the third line of the song, a thunderous roar filled the air at Sandy Promenade. The flyover had arrived, and after the cheers and applause for the jets was over, the crowd continued singing.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Master Sergeant Colin Green, a veteran of Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan runs the American flag as the sun rises on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at the Utah Healing Field in Sandy, part of the nonprofit Colonial Flag Foundation, who posted 3,000 flags to honor the fallen. The display is free to the public and open now through Sept. 13.

The Utah Healing Field held its 20th anniversary memorial of 9/11 on Saturday, featuring performances by the Utah Symphony. Service members, emergency responders and the victims of the attacks were remembered with patriotic songs from the symphony, while attendees walked through thousands of flags to read the stories of each victim from note cards attached to the flags.

(Jordan Miller| The Salt Lake Tribune) A notecard attached to a flag describes the story of Godwin Forde, 39, who died on 9/11 at the Utah Healing Field event in Sandy on Sept. 11, 2021.

Kristina Nytch, a Sandy resident, first heard about the attacks while she was helping her 5-year-old get ready for school and her husband called on that day.

“It’s just a special event to join with the community and remember a sad day but unite anyway,” Nytch said. “I think it’s a wonderful tradition. I’m very pleased and happy to be a resident of Sandy with the support here. I just want to thank the people who put it together and let us come together and enjoy it.”

Cadet Alexa Rose was one of those individuals who helped with the event. Rose, who is 16, wasn’t yet born when the attacks took place 20 years ago, but she’s part of a youth military organization that helps adolescents learn about the armed services and “how much people sacrifice for this country.”

“We came to help out today and just pay tribute to our heroes,” Rose said. “I have a lot of adults that have told me what’s happened, and I think what hurts me most about it is seeing the pain in their eyes, so I try to treat this day as something to honor and look up to people who were heroes that day. ... [This event] shows a good sense of unity in our community and how much we are willing to honor people who serve our country.”

(Jordan Miller | The Salt Lake Tribune) A flag flies in a field of 3,000 honoring the victims of 9/11 on Sandy Promenade for the Utah Healing Field event in Sandy on September 11, 2021.

Paul Swenson, CEO of Sandy-based Colonial Flag, said the first year the flags were planted 2002, some 250 volunteers helped put the flags up in about four hours. This year, it took only two hours.

“Volunteers showed up on the lawn in front of me and posted 3,031 flags in an effort to honor those who perished the year before at the hands of terrorists and to show visually the magnitude of the loss,” Swenson said. “Because many had expressed a sense of healing as they walked through the flags, we began calling it the healing field. ... Now, 20 years later, there have been over 1,000 of these fields across America.”

Swenson acknowledged everyone who has served in the military and in emergency services since 9/11. Although the event mainly focuses on those who died in 9/11, he said, this event is also about Sept. 12, 2001.

“It’s not just that we honor the people that were killed and since; it’s also that day on the 12th, after we were in shock on the 11th, we saw these firemen put that flag up,” Swenson said, referring to the statue behind him. “That image that went all over the world gave us hope. ... It’s a reminder of what happened the next day as well: We came together as a nation. And boy, could we use that now, couldn’t we?

(Jordan Miller | The Salt Lake Tribune) A flag flies above the 'Hope Rising — To Lift a Nation' monument at the Utah Healing Field event in Sandy on Sept. 11, 2021.

“So for those of you who have lost a loved one 20 years ago, or even this month, I can’t imagine the depths of your pain. But we’re your neighbors and fellow Americans,” he added. “We can put these flags up every year and honor you, and remember them, and try in some small way to cover you as friends and neighbors and community.”