American flags fly in honor of military members at Castaways Park

Overlooking Newport Harbor on Saturday morning, the flags outnumbered the audience.

About 100 people gathered in the middle of Castaways Park where 1,776 American flags were rippling in the onshore breeze.

Attached to many of those flags were names, including that of U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor, a 25-year-old from Garden Grove.

In 2006, Monsoor was on a rooftop in Ramadi, Iraq protecting three U.S. Navy SEAL snipers. When a grenade thrown from below bounced off his chest and landed on the roof, he threw himself on top of it, sacrificing his life to save his fellow soldiers.

The small crowd Saturday was on a cliff above the Newport bay to honor military members like Monsoor on Armed Forces Day.

Each year, volunteers from the Exchange Club of Newport Harbor transform Castaways Park into a contemplative monument to servicemen, servicewomen and their families.

From Friday to Sunday, it’s almost impossible to walk through the small park without brushing against the Stars and Stripes.

It’s the “most dramatic event we have in this town every year,” Newport Beach Mayor Rush Hill said during Saturday’s dedication ceremony.

This year, Admiral Richard Lyon, the first Navy SEAL to achieve that rank, reminded the crowd that they have a responsibility.

At one point he spoke directly to the family and friends of military members.

“Supporting them and being part of what they’re going through is critical for armed forces members,” he said.

He lamented that displays like Newport Beach’s are rare on Armed Forces Day.

“This is a great thing that’s being done right here,” he said. “It should be happening all over the United States, but it’s not.”

The Field of Honor runs through Sunday afternoon. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, veterans will be at the park to talk to visitors and share stories.

Organizers this year said the turnout hasn’t been what they hoped, but the individual reactions have so far made up for it.

“Everyone that comes here is just amazed,” said Exchange Club president Bill Bechtel.

Attending the Field of Honor is free, and anyone can dedicate a flag to a military member for $45. Proceeds from the event are donated to local nonprofits.