Partnering with a community
The Northern California Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NorCal NECA) partnered with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local Union 180 in hosting the Healing Field event from Sept. 9 through Sept. 11, 2005.
This was the second year the NorCal NECA Chapter and IBEW Local 180 have sponsored a Healing Field in this location, and according to Vacaville Mayor, Len Augustine, residents would like to see their community partners host the event every year. When IBEW Local 180 president Dan Broadwater first approached Augustine with the idea a year ago, the mayor was immediately enthusiastic.
“I knew right away that this was something that would be good for the city of Vacaville. The Healing Field is important because Sept. 11 is something we can never forget ... and walking through the field, you really get a sense of the enormity of the event,” Augustine said.
The Healing Field contains one American flag for every life lost in the terrorist attacks. Assembled by IBEW Local 180 apprentices, the 3-by-5-foot flags stand on 8-foot poles. Each has a card attached with a brief biography of the victim represented.
“These cards help to remind us that the people who lost their lives on Sept. 11th were regular people, just going to work like any of us on any given day,” said Don Campbell, NorCal chapter manager.
Two Oakland high school students gathered information for the cards. They participate in a NorCal NECA-supported work program for students interested in the skilled trades.
“These young people worked hard in their research, and now these cards are going to be used at Healing Field events across the country,” said Campbell.
A weekend for remembrance
An opening ceremony started the weekend-long event on Sept. 10 with victims' names read onstage in Andrews Park.
“Everyone attending really wanted to be involved,” Campbell said. “Volunteers from the community read portions of the list of [victims'] names ... . I have never been involved in anything that has impacted so many people and in such a profound way. It was a very emotional experience.”
According to Pete Halver, assistant manager of NorCal NECA, the community's enthusiasm and desire to be involved is exactly what the chapter had hoped for.
“This event was intended to be nonpolitical, nondenominational and noncommercial,” Halver said. “We did this to honor those who lost their lives on 9/11 and also give something back to the city of Vacaville. There is always a tremendous outpouring from the community, and that is part of what makes this experience so special.”
Other events that took place included a Presentation of Colors by the Air Force Honor Guard and remarks from several local politicians including Mayor Augustine and Congressman George Miller. A special “Table of Honor” ceremony presented by the American Legion paid tribute to the responders who sacrificed their lives. Represented in this commemoration were the armed forces, EMS, fire service and law enforcement.
Attendees interested in obtaining tangible reminders of the event could purchase the field flags. All proceeds went to local charities and Hurricane Katrina disaster relief.
While the city of Vacaville witnessed a weekend full of various venues and performances, all those involved seemed to agree that the most significant aspect of the entire event was not found in the ceremony, but simply in the field itself.
Halver said, “These flags are eight feet tall and are spaced in such a way that when you walk out into the field-no matter how many people are out there-you truly feel like you are by yourself. It offers you an opportunity to reflect and think about all those who were lost.”
For Campbell, the field offered an incredibly rewarding experience he feels people can relate to.
“After all the work and preparation that went into this event is concluded, and you can walk among the flags, you truly get the sense of what this is all about. Words do little to describe the feeling.”
For the mayor, the event offers a way for the Vacaville community to look back and remember the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and try to come to terms with the number of lives that were lost.
“By remembering the events of the past that changed our country forever, we can move forward-this truly is a healing field,” Augustine said. EC
VANBUSKIRK is the marketing/PR assistant at NECA headquarters in Bethesda, Md.