Dayson Johnson, brother of slain Draper police Sgt. Derek Johnson, knows his family is not alone.
On Wednesday evening, Sandy City held its annual Healing Field Flag Display ceremony at City Hall (10000 Centennial Parkway) to honor the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and all the soldiers and emergency responders who have died since then. The event included 2,013 flags flapping in the wind across the south promenade, representing those sacrifices. Just days before, many of the same flags had lined the funeral procession for Derek Johnson, who was shot and killed on Sept. 1.
"[There are] so many people who give their lives for our freedom," said Dayson Johnson, who attended the ceremony with his family, and walked through the field of flags. "We really owe it to them."
The ceremony derives its name from the healing experience people feel walking through the flags, said John Hartvigsen, program adviser for the Colonial Flag Foundation, which has organized the ceremony for the past 11 years. The flags remind people that they are "part of something larger than ourselves, [and] that brings solace and comfort," he said.
During the ceremony, which included speakers, songs from the Ogden High Honor Choir and a spotlight on Derek Johnson's sacrifice, Utah National Guard Brig. Gen. Dallen Atack referred to all uniformed men and women, whether military or first responders, as members of a "noble profession." They raise their right hand and accept the risk to their lives, or as President Abraham Lincoln described it, the last full measure of devotion, he said.
Some 129 military men and women from Utah have died in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Among them was Utah soldier Cody Towse, who also had been a first responder. He died May 14 during a series of four blasts from improvised explosive devices while on foot patrol in Sanjaray, Afghanistan, six days after his 21st birthday. He was killed in the second explosion after running in to provide life-saving medical care to a wounded fellow soldier, Army officials said. Before Afghanistan, Towse served as a paramedic and a firefighter with the Elk Ridge Fire Department.
The ceremony also included an announcement that the dedication of the Utah Freedom Memorial Park will take place May 17, 2014 – Armed Forces Day. The planned monument is meant to honor fallen military members and will be erected on the same promenade where the flags flew Wednesday evening.
The Colonial Flag Foundation has held the ceremony at the Sandy location for the past 11 years, but this year the Homes for Heroes Foundation stepped in to help sponsor the event. Going forward, Homes for Heroes will continue to organize the event in Colonial Flag Foundation's stead, Hartvigsen said.
A compilation of many of the names and faces of the Utah men and women who have died since 2003 serving in the military is available at http://extras.sltrib.com/theFallen.