Westerville's most visible Memorial Day tradition continues to grow, and as Field of Heroes approaches its 10th anniversary, organizers are planning a recollection of each year of the event's history.
Field of Heroes is the annual Memorial Day observation hosted by the Westerville Sunrise Rotary.
Using the 100,000-square-foot field across from the Westerville Sports Complex at 325 N. Cleveland Ave., volunteers place 3,000 8-foot American flags that honor various heroes neatly into rows, with a variety of specific memorials on display.
The 10-year anniversary theme of the event is "Reflection, Honor and Tradition." To fit with that theme, a "tribute" area will feature displays from several of the event's previous installations, honoring women in the military, prisoners of war and those missing in action, along with veterans of World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and the Middle East conflicts.
"It brings back different elements from each of the past nine years," event chairman Mike Herron said. "A lot of the displays that have been used previously will be coming back and all those displays will be in the tribute area. So I think that will have a big impact."
Another important feature this year will be a portion of the field dedicated to Westerville Division of Police officers Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli, who died in the line of duty in February.
In the "first responders" portion of the tribute field, an eternal flame will be surrounded by blue ceramic poppies made by volunteers. There also will be display boards for each officer, containing mementos and photos from the officers' families, who sanctioned the memorials, Herron said.
"After things kind of quieted down, we reflected upon it and a couple people from our team reached out to their (families) and they gave their approval," he said. "So we wanted to be sure to recognize them."
The event has more than doubled in size since its inception, and Herron said although "reflecting" is part of the theme, it's amazing to look at how far the event has come.
"In the first year, we started off with 1,500 flags as a community event, and the response was so overwhelming we said, 'Oh, we have to do it again,' so it became an annual tradition," he said.
Field of Heroes has gained traction beyond just Ohio. Liz Flick, the National League of POW/MIA Families central region coordinator, said in a release that the organization has "invited our colleagues from around the country" to the event this year.
"The Field of Heroes is the most inspiring and moving display to honor our veterans that I've seen," she said. "We are honored to be a part of it and were humbled by the tribute paid to POWs and MIAs at the 2017 event."
As more and more people experience the field, Herron said he gets to enjoy his favorite part of the event.
"People expect that display to be out there on Memorial Day weekend, which we're happy to do," he said. "But after spending so many days and hours at the field, what's even more incredible is the stories that you hear from the veterans who come through or family members who come through and talk about what this means to them."
Field of Heroes officially opens at 1 p.m. Friday, May 25, and stays on display until 1 p.m. Monday, May 28.
Some specific events include a free concert by the Central Ohio Brass Band at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 26; a flag retirement ceremony at 6 p.m. and a memorial ceremony at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, May 27; and a closing ceremony at 12:30 p.m. Monday, May 28.
The sixth annual Field of Heroes 5K Run/Walk, held in conjunction with the display, will take place at 8 a.m. Sunday, May 27. This year's race beneficiary will be Honor Flight Columbus.
For more information on the display or the run-walk, visit FieldOfHeroes.org.