Flags fly high on hillside

When the Newport Harbor Exchange Club started its Field of Honor event four years ago, a ruckus interrupted the inaugural weekend.

When a passing cyclist saw the hillside at Castaways Park covered in American flags, he stopped and started yelling, Exchange Club Treasurer Jerry Nininger said.

"He was just so excited about the event that he was going on and on," Nininger said.

That's the extreme example of a common reaction to the annual celebration, according to Exchange Club members.

"We get a lot of tears," he said. "They either get really excited or they cry."

For Armed Forces Day weekend, the club plants 1,776 American flags at Castaways Park in Newport Beach and invites the public to freely attend as a tribute to the troops, Nininger said.

From Friday to Sunday this year, the flags will fly to honor military men and women past and present. A dedication ceremony at noon Saturday will be the central event.

Nininger brought the idea to the club four years ago.

"We just thought it was a good way to share our patriotism with the community," said Bill Bechtel, who co-chairs the event with Nininger.

It also raises money for active troops, veterans and their families.

The Field of Honor took in about $30,000 last year, all of which went straight to charities — mostly for wounded warriors and transitional services for veterans, the co-chairs said.

The money comes from donations and a fee attendees can pay to dedicate a flag at the Field of Honor.

The Exchange Club will place a yellow ribbon with a name, rank and military branch logo on any flag for $45.

Nininger dedicated one flag to his distant cousin who died in World War II, he said, but the club encourages dedications for current service-members too.

"We've seen some from the earliest soldiers in the Revolutionary War to the newest soldiers in boot camp," Nininger said.

The club estimates 3,000 people will come through the park's winding paths to see the display, which is the best way to understand the gravity of the event, Nininger said.

"You just cannot explain to people what a whole hillside of flags looks like until they are here and see it," he said.

If You Go

What: Newport Harbor Exchange Club's Field of Honor

When: Saturday to Sunday with a dedication ceremony at noon Saturday

Where: Castaways Park, 700 Dover Drive, Newport Beach

Cost: Free to attend; $45 to dedicate a flag plus $10 to have it delivered

Information: http://www.nhexchange.org

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