The terrorist attacks of September Eleventh in 2001 had a horrific impact on us as a nation and as individuals. Paul Swenson, saw the "sheer enormity" of the human loss evidenced by the rubble, carnage and confusion at ground zero. The horror and despair of the scene brought no comfort. Paul wanted to acknowledge the scale of the sacrifice with a positive image that would also offer hope and comfort: a display that would offer healing.
Paul envisioned a display of three thousand United States flags, a Healing Field, to honor those who died on 9-11. Not a pile of rubble bleak against a gray smoke streaked sky but ordered lines of flags posted on a grassy field, fluttering in the breeze against a blue sky, the enormity of the event symbolized by a positive and beautiful image.
This was certainly a big idea. Many big ideas never come into fulfillment; however, this would not be the case with Paul Swenson and his vision of a Healing Field. He set out to make his vision a reality. The vision took planning, coordination and determination. In the effort, Paul discovered a host of problems that required solution. He encountered naysayers who could not see the vision that Paul saw so clearly. Disregarding doubters Paul pressed forward creating detail plans, organizing committees, inspiring volunteers.
On the first anniversary of the terrorist attack, the first Healing Field appeared on the lawns south of the City Hall in Sandy, Utah. Each September since, a Healing Field has emerged on the same grassy fields to honor the victims of the 2001 attack.
Although through the Colonial Flag Foundation, Healing Fields have spread around the country, the Sandy Healing Field retains Paul Swenson's personal involvement. My firsthand association with the huge flag displays began with Sandy Healing Field 2010, as I joined Paul and Sandy City workers in laying out the field. Later volunteers arrived to set up the flags with Paul leading the effort. When guests and officials gathered for the program, Paul was there to run the sound system. As the ninth annual Healing Field ended, Paul worked again with the volunteers to remove and furl the flags. However, as the sun set on the 2010 display, Paul began planning with Sandy City officials for the Tenth Anniversary Sandy Healing Field.
Utilizing the Colonial Flag Foundation's program developed by Paul Swenson and his associates, Sandy City will sponsor the 2011 Sandy Healing Field. Cities all around the country create successful Healing Field displays with this program, but Sandy City has an added bonus, Paul Swenson's personal involvement.
Yes, big ideas often fail to materialize; however, this is certainly not the case with Paul Swenson's big idea. Paul's vision of three thousand flags will rise again this September, offering a positive image while giving hope and comfort, a display of healing. A Healing Field.
Over the years, the President of the United States has used many different flags. Sometimes there were two versions of the presidential flags displayed during the same period, one for the Army, one for the Navy. The basic design of each incorporated the President's seal that itself was based on the Great Seal of the United States (http://bit.ly/fx45oU). In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson adopted one Presidential flag for use by both the Army and the Navy. On the center of a blue field the flag displayed the President's seal then in use. It differed from the Great Seal in several ways. The constellation of stars of the crest, rather that being shown in a burst of glory, are displayed on rays of glory streaming out from behind the eagle. The bald eagle from the President's seal was depicted with white or silvery feathers, and the bird faced to its own left and the arrows held in the left talons. The bald eagle on the Great Seal has golden brown feathers and faces to its own right and the olive branches of peace. Perhaps Wilson intended this to represent the President's war powers as Commander-in-chief. The President's military position was symbolized on the 1916 flag by four stars, one in each corner. The flags of the top Generals and Admirals at the time also displayed four stars denoting their military rank. Then during World War II, American Four Star Generals appeared to be outranked by European Field Marshalls that existed in allied armies. The rank of Field Marshall did not fit with American military tradition, so Congress created a new rank, General of the Armies and Admiral of the Navy to rank equally with the Field Marshalls. The new rank insignia consisted of five stars. The flags displayed by newly minted Generals of the Army also showed five stars, one more star that included on the Presidential flag. Franklin Roosevelt did not want it to appear as if his top Generals and Admirals out ranked their Commander-in-chief. So, he instructed that a new design, with more stars, be prepared for the President. The new design was not ready until after Roosevelt's death, and so President Harry S. Truman issued a Presidential Proclamation authorizing the new flag. The four stars, one in each corner, were dropped and replaced by a ring of forty-eight stars, one star for each state. With the admission of Alaska and Hawaii the the number of stars in the ring increased to fifty. Does this mean the President is a fifty star General? No, but he is the Commander-in-chief of our National Union of fifty states. But now, the bald eagle is golden brown and faces to the right talons and the olive branch. It is this Presidential flag we see in the Oval Office when the President Obama addresses the nation. It has grown to represent not only the President's miliary authority, but also his role as the leader of the nation.
In 1922 an unauthorized change made to the design on one Utah State flag altered the pattern used for over eighty years. Numerals for the year 1847, honoring the arrival of the Mormon pioneers, were moved from their original position on the shield appearing at the flag's center to a spot just below the shield. Later flags used the incorrect flag as a pattern. This admittedly small error went unnoticed for about sixty years, until I spotted the discrepancy while examining the flag's legal description contained in the state codes.
The unauthorized change appeared so small, in fact, that it has been regularly overlooked during the flag's long history. This is understandable for casual readings of the description. However, even when more careful scrutiny of wording might be expected, the change went unnoticed.
In November 1933 Utah's Attorney General Joseph Chez responded to an inquiry from the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. They sent an illustration of the flag asking if it followed the pattern required by law. "I have examined the photograph of the flag enclosed by you, and so far as I am able to determine it meets the specifications of the law" Attorney General Chez assured the women. The article quoting the Attorney General's letter includes a color illustration of the Utah State flag showing the "1847" below the shield.
Some twenty years later the Utah State flag Committee, asked the Attorney General's office for an opinion "whether the design was in conflict with the U.S. flag code" which states "Do not place any object or emblem of any kind on or above the flag of the United States. The committee was concerned that "Utah's flag contains a draped Old Glory surmounted by a spread eagle." This time Assistant Attorney General Walter L. Budge informed the committee that "The Utah state flag is both authentic and in good taste." A newspaper account concludes that "Mr. Budge opined that the restriction [of the flag code] applies only to placing objects on or above the national emblem itself." No mention was made of misplacement of the numbers "1847."
Although I have a thick file of newspaper articles about the Utah State flag, no mention was ever made of the incorrect placement of the numerals below the shield.
After discovering the problem in the 1980s, I shared the information with state officials, historians, reporters and anyone who would listen. This disclosure was often met by a wry smile which seemed to say, "What an interesting piece of trivia."
Early last year, I shared this news with Ron Fox, who did not consider the discrepancy trivial. In respect to the history of the Utah State flag it should be described, illustrated and manufactured correctly. State Representative Julie Fisher agreed and produced a Resolution admonishing flag manufacturers to make the Utah State flag in accordance with State law and the flag's history.
Why does such a small detail matter? Makers of the Utah State flag can only produce flags based on the information they are given. They have obviously made flags based on illustrations following the 1922 flag. The wording of the description adopted in 1913 reflects the original flag and the earliest made Utah State flags. It is a matter of carefully following the Utah Code.
Call John a flag expert, a flag historian or a Vexillologist. The Deseret News called him “Utah’s Resident Flagman.” John has studied flags since he was a small boy. Before he learned to read, John studied the pictures of flags found in his family’s encyclopedia. His childhood interest has grown to obsession. He has conducted original research into the histories of U.S. and Utah flags. He has delivered papers and talks about flags and has written articles about flags for various publications. In 1982 and 2010, John received the William Driver Award of the North American Vexillological Association. The award is given by the association for the best paper delivered at its annual meeting.
John graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in Political Science. He also earned a secondary teaching certificate and a teaching minor in history at the University of Utah. He served twelve years as an officer in the U.S. Army’s Adjutant Generals Corps. He is currently completing a history of Utah’s flags.