Veterans turn Turner lawn into ‘healing field’

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TURNER – As Vietnam veterans Paul Bernard and Warren Clark finished one row of flags – the first batch of 911 they wrestled into the rocky soil of Bernard’s front lawn – buddy John Jordan watched.

Then, he stunned his friends.

Jordan, also a Vietnam veteran, wanted to help, but he was unable to bend because of a prosthetic leg.

“He takes his leg off, lays it at the end of the row and he drags himself up the row,” Bernard recalled Monday.

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It went on that way for five hours. The only sound was the hammer hitting the steel rod used to dig holes for the small flags.

“Every time I’d look at him, I’d see him dragging himself,” Bernard said. “He did 10 rows himself, dragging his body back and forth.”

In the end, with flags covering Bernard’s wide lawn at 451 Lower St., the men had their healing field.

That’s what Bernard called it, borrowing the name from veterans’ groups around the country who have been filling lawns and fields to commemorate the Independence Day holiday and honor people who died in America’s wars.

Getting the flags from a local cemetery after they’d flown above veterans’ graves, Bernard aimed to fill his yard.

He thought he had 850. Then he and his friends, all members of Turner Post 111 of the American Legion, started fixing up the broken ones.

When they finished placing them in the lawn – in straight, cemetery-like rows – they discovered they had 911.

“We had no idea,” he said. “We couldn’t have planned it if we tried.”

The collection of flags is eye-catching.

Located on the same street as Leavitt Area High School, the field has drawn onlookers ever since it was completed on July 4.

People slow down, stop, take pictures and even walk onto Bernard’s lawn.

“They’re all quiet,” he said. And though the flags might seem celebratory in another context, they seem somber here.

“People ask if they represent each of the U.S. soldiers dead in Iraq,” Bernard said.

It’s not even close, he tells them. After all, that total is well over 3,000 men and women and climbing. Bernard said he’d run out of land if he tried to put that many flags in the ground.

Besides, he hopes people see the creation and join his legion post’s aim to create a veterans’ memorial park in Turner.

“People forget,” he said. “It keeps the memories alive. This is just an idea of how it impacts you.”

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