Marines help community heal from Firestorm 2007

23 Oct 2008 | Lance Cpl. Austin Goacher

Marines from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar helped the Rancho Bernardo Rotary Club construct a Healing Field at the Rancho Bernardo Community Park Oct. 17. The field was open to the public Oct. 18 and 19 in memory of the fire victims of 2007.

The 1,100 flag Healing Field, featured one American flag for every house damaged or destroyed by the 2007 wildfires, explained Marika Szoke, the event co-chair and club member. The project served as a memorial for the one-year anniversary of the fires which ravaged the San Diego area and forced more than half-a-million people from their homes.

“I think there’s no greater symbol to represent a home than an American flag,” said Szoke. “I found the organization that does the Healing Fields at a convention I was at and thought it would be a great remembrance for the fire survivors.”

During the first day of the event, the Marines helped put the flags together, laid out the field and planted the flags in the ground. Piecing a flag together consisted of zip tying the cloth to a PVC pipe, placing the flag and flagpole on a piece of rebar, and positioning the flag in-line with the others on the field. Each flagpole featured a colored ribbon with the ribbons representing houses from different communities.

Each Marine was an essential part of the process involved in setting up the field, explained Szoke.

“We had dozens of people come out to help,” said Szoke. “Every volunteer who participated in the process was extremely important.”

During the weekend, the fields were on display for anyone who wanted to view them, explained Szoke. Those interested could purchase one of the flags for $40, with proceeds from the event going to various local funds including one to rebuild the Rancho Bernardo firehouse. Saturday included a special opening ceremony featuring the national anthem and The Pledge of Allegiance.

“We wanted to do the whole event on these dates because it was the anniversary of the fires,” said Szoke. “It’s a tribute to the surviving families and a way for us as a community to regain a sense of support because our journey isn’t over; only about 20 percent of people have begun the rebuilding process here.”

Being part of the event was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, explained to Cpl. Alma Turcios, an administration clerk with Marine Wing Support Group 37, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

“It was a great experience working with the community to remember what everyone went through last year,” said Turcois.

More information on the event and other Rotary Club events can be found at the club’s Web site