The old church bell tolled on the Fourth of July. The somber sound reverberated over the lawn of the Saugatuck Congregational Church and then there was silence.
The bell tolled again.
In all, the bell in the belfry tolled 14 times on Sunday to recognize the most recent American war casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. In their honor, townspeople planted small American flags on the lawn facing Post Road amidst 5,536 others placed there in neat rows beginning on June 18.
A separate line of 52 flags honored the 52 Connecticut dead, with plaques giving their names, home towns and dates of death. The first was Sgt. John A. Chapman (U.S. Air Force, Windosr Locks, March 4, 2002) and the 52nd was Sgt. Edwin Rivera (Connecticut National Guard, Watertown, May 20, 2010).
"We are here to honor the fallen," said Mary Ann West who, with Randy Christophersen, persuaded the church's board back in January to host the an ever-growing exhibit that travels from church to church across the state.
Since the flags arrived in Westport from the Somers Congregational Church on June 18, West and Christopherson and others have maintained the flags — lined up as if in military formation — and added to them as word came home of another death of an American.
"Most people want this to stay," West said when asked about the response of Westporters to the dramatic display that takes up half the expansive church lawn.
But volunteers will take the flags down on Tuesday, and clean and pack them up for their trip to their next stop — Bloomfield.
The flag exhibit is not intended to make a single statement, she said.
"Those who come are going through their own personal journey," she said, noting that an address book left outside to record names, addresses and comments of visitors includes Gold Star families — those who have lost family members in the Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Whether you agree or disagree with our policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, we can all pay respect to those who've paid the ultimate price with their lives," Christophersen said.
"This is the cost of our freedom," he said.
Irene McCutchen was one of those who stepped forward to plant a flag in the grass as the name of a recently deceased American fighter was read by West. With an upswing of her arm, Nancy Pool signalled to the volunteers in the belfry — Bill Meyers and David Pool — to strike the church bell again.
McCutchen had been moved to attend the Field of Flags event by the sermon delivered earlier in the day by pastoral associate John Twiname at the Greens Farms Congregational Church.
"Pastor Twiname read Bible passages from Galatians 5, instructing about faith expressing itself in love and responsible exercise of freedom," she said. "It was a wonderful sermon."
At the close, the pastor suggested the congregants attend the Field of Flags event at the Saugatuck Congregational Church, sister church to the Greens Farms Congregational Church.
McCutchen was part of a small gathering who assembled under the majestic maples near the flag display.
"We pray there won't be any more additions," West said in closing remarks.
Donations are earmarked to aid homeless veterans. There are 400 women veterans of the two wars who are homeless in Connecticut, Christophersen said.