‘Like a cemetery during Memorial Day’: Field of the Fallen set up in Cary; Wall that Heals in West Dundee

Installations draw veterans, families over holiday weekend

Volunteers from the Sea Cadets carried the colors on Friday, May 24, 2024, during the Field of the Fallen opening ceremony in Cary.

Doug Katz said the best time to come out to the Field of the Fallen is 1 or 2 a.m. on Memorial Day weekend, when few others are there to hear the names of fallen servicemen and servicewomen read out loud.

Between the opening ceremony Friday until all of the names are read every hour on the hour, a total of 353 names will be remembered, said Katz, a member of the Veterans Network Committee of Northern Illinois.

Located in a field near the intersection of Georgetown Drive and Three Oaks Road in Cary, the 353 flags represent one fallen service member from Illinois dating back to Desert Storm.

“We will be here until 5 p.m. on Memorial Day, and every hour we will read off a group of names,” Katz said. Volunteers will stand guard day and night, “sort of like a cemetery during Memorial Day.”

Reading the names, he said, helps ensure service members do not die “a second death.” The first death, he said, is their physical death. The second is when no one remembers or mentions their name again.

Matt Charlier was among the volunteers setting up the field Friday afternoon. He’s been volunteering for the event for about 10 years, brings his RV and urges people to “come on out after midnight.”

Wall That Heals in West Dundee

Herb Bolding encourages Vietnam veterans who have never visited the Wall That Heals – a traveling 3/4-size replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. – to come out while the wall is at Randall Oaks Park in West Dundee. The installation will remain through 1 p.m. Monday.

Now 80 years old, Bolding never spoke about his service in Vietnam until five years ago, the last time the wall visited, in July 2019.

“I was playing golf here and saw the flags flying from Randall Road,” Bolding said. He came back later with his family “and from that day forward, I have been able to say what I want” about [my] time in Vietnam.

He said seeing the names of his brothers and sisters whose names are on that wall has helped him process what happened there. For others who have not yet processed that, “it can take something like this to do that.”

Harold Mierisch, 76, said the experience of seeing the Wall that Heals was similar for him, helping him to deal with his time in the war. “I came home and put my uniform in the closet,” Mierisch said. “I didn’t speak to anyone other than family.”

It’s taken Mierisch 42 years to open up about his time in Vietnam, he said. That came 15 years ago this week, when his wife encouraged him to attend an event by True Patriots Care. That organization worked with American Legion Post 679 to bring the wall to West Dundee.

“At first, I didn’t want to do that,” Mierisch said, but he relented. Going to that first event “helped me cross the bridge, as I call it.” Now, he is on the organization’s board and helps other Vietnam veterans cross that bridge.

Jerry Christopherson, president of True Patriots Care, never served in Vietnam himself; he was drafted at 19, but spent his two years in the U.S. Army in Germany. Like other returning veterans from that time, he didn’t talk much about his service.

Bringing the wall – one of three replicas that travel the country – “really does make a difference in the lives of Vietnam veterans,” he said.

Christopherson said he believes that is because it rights a wrong about how those veterans were treated upon their return. “We are correcting that mistake,” he said.

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