Photos: Tempe Healing Field - 9/11 survivor, volunteers share powerful stories

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland
By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

TEMPE, Ariz. -- For the eighth year, volunteers are setting up nearly 3,000 American flags to honor those killed in the 9/11 attacks 10 years ago Sunday.

It's called the Healing Field and it is a sight to see, emotional even for those who have seen it in years past.

There is one flag for each of the 2,977 victims, most of whom were civilians, who died on 9/11. Of those, more than 2,600 were in New York at the World Trade Center, both in the towers and on the ground.

Eight years ago, there were about 40 volunteers setting up those flags. Early Friday morning, some 200 people gathered at Tempe Beach Park to plant the 8-foot tall flags, each one with a card carrying a victim's name and a short biography.

Yellow ribbons on the flags designate the first responders; blue flags designate the flight crews on the two planes. If there are boots by a flag, it represents a member of the U.S. military. A teddy bear signifies a child.

For many of the volunteers, setting up the flags of the Healing Field is a very personal thing, their way of honoring somebody they knew who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

"I lost a friend that day," Steve Fortunato said. "I'm just paying my respects by coming out. ... I just want to be a part of it."

Fortunato's friend, Joseph "Joey" Agnello (right), was a New York firefighter. Part of Ladder Company 118, Agnello was one of 343 firefighters paramedics killed at the World Trade Center.

"He was a good friend," Fortunato said as he showed off his tattoo honoring Agnello as "One of 343 Angels."

Ellie Lobel, a 9/11 survivor who is here today because she was running late for work that fateful morning 10 years ago, has visited the Healing Field every year.

"There are many, many people who are still healing, and this Healing Field is a great place to do that," she said. "It's a great place to know that you're not alone, that you are with many -- thousands and thousands of others."

Lobel was running toward the entrance of the North Tower of the World Trade Center when the second plane hit.

"We heard the roar above our heads," she recalled. "We all stopped and looked up, and realized that there was a plane actually disappearing into the building.

"There are thousands of us who were there, who witnessed everything that happened," Lobel continued. "I know how they feel 10 years later. I'm grateful for them and grateful that they're still here, but the healing process still goes on."

The Healing Field and marking this milestone anniversary is not just about honoring those lost. It's also about the survivors.

"I really want people to realize that, love those people. Be there for them at this time. While we are here to honor those who lost their lives, we really need to remember those who are left behind, who are still here with us."

Bill Marshall of the Sun City Fire Department has helped set up the Healing Field flags every year. Each time, he's been in full gear and he's always stayed to talk to people who visit the special display.

"I get far more from the people who come up to than I give out I think," he said. "I'm very fortunate. I have people who walk over to me and say, 'You know, my brother died that day,' and cry on my should. It's an incredible experience."

The Healing Field display, which is presented by the Valley of the Sun Exchange Clubs Foundation and the City of Tempe, is free and open to the public, 5 a.m.-11 p.m. daily.

On Sunday, the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks, there will be a brief commemoration, including the reading of the names of the first responders who were killed. That will happen at 5:46 a.m., the same time that the first plane struck the World Trade Center. Later that morning and into the afternoon, the public is invited to join in the reading of all of the victims' names. A candlelight vigil will take place at 7 p.m.

United Blood Services will be hosting a blood drive Sept. 10-11, 8 a.m.-1 p.m. at Tempe Beach Park. Walk-ins are welcome, but if you'd like to make an appointment, visit BloodHero.com and use code 9/11.

Tempe Beach Park is located at 80 E. Rio Salado Parkway.

To learn more about Healing Field 2011, visit HealingField.org or Tempe.gov.