Oak Brook Remembers 9/11

By Frank Von Pruce

It was a truly awe-inspiring sight. Sun rays cast down on a vast sea of stars and stripes waving gracefully in solemn display, thousands of flags carrying forward the legacy of loved ones tragically lost on September 11th, 2001. Each of the 2977 flags standing in perfect order were pinned with a colorful ribbon. The panorama commanded an area hundreds of feet long and at the center laid an 80 foot silver star, each point representing a moment in time on that fateful day. Consecrated with ivory white chains stood a small table reserving the seats of first responders who did not make it home to join their families for dinner. This was the scene at the Healing Field, a patriotic tribute organized by non-profit True Patriots Care. While Oak Brook holds remembrance ceremonies annually, it was the second year since 2017 that community members near and far traveled to Oak Brook’s Sports Core to pay their respects at the five day memorial ran by founder Jerry Christopherson’s foundation. True Patriots Care’s website states their mission as, “dedicated to recognizing and supporting those who have served their communities as first responders and as members of the armed forces.” Blue ribbons represented police, red for firefighters, yellow for civilians, and white ribbons honored the memories of 28 flight crew members.

Oak Brook first responders observe the ceremony

Along with the ribbons were short biographies and photographs of the individual for whom the flag stood. Visitors were encouraged to walk among the flags and many spent the afternoon silently admiring the magnificence of the display. Attendees were invited to the podium to share testimonies about their experiences with 9/11 and how the Healing Field had affected them. One such person was Sue Mladenik who lost her husband on 9/11. Jeff, an admired pastor at Christ Church of Oak Brook, was taken from his family when the plane he was traveling in struck the north tower. “For every one of these flags, there’s somebody like me and my kids that…I don’t know, it’s hard to explain. It’s pretty overwhelming,” she said. Members of Oak Brook’s Donnelly family also gave a speech for FDNY Ladder 3 Lieutenant Kevin Donnelly, bringing his helmet as part of their presentation. Oak Brook Police Chief James Krueger was instrumental in bringing the Healing Field to Oak Brook in 2017 and knew he wanted it to return for the 20th anniversary after witnessing its success four years prior. Even though True Patriots Care typically only builds the Healing Field once every five years, Krueger said he pushed hard and was ultimately successful in convincing the foundation to come back after highlighting the all-around support received from the village, the community, and the media. “I’ve often said that trying to explain it to somebody,” said Krueger, “there’s just no way to crystallize and explain the emotion and how awe-inspiring it is until somebody witnesses it.” Other events included a charity motorcycle ride to the memorial and a gun salute. Said Krueger, “It was just terrific as it turned out.”

*Photos provided by*

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