SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – South Plainfield’s Monument Park last week served as the backdrop for the borough’s inaugural Field of Honor, 150 American flags displayed in a sea of red, white and blue as a tribute to all servicemen and women, veterans and first responders. The week-long display was held during Armed Forces Week 2017 (May 14-21) and, on Saturday – Armed Forces Day – approximately 200 residents, military personnel, first responders, and political leaders gathered at the park for a special ceremony.
“Seeing the number of people here is so astonishing,” said event organizer Hannah Rhoads, 16, who planned the Field of Honor as a means of paying tribute to those who have or are serving, including her late brother, Army Specialist Ryan T. Rhoads, who passed away on May 21, 2015.
“This past week and today, seeing 150 flags flying in Monument Park, reminds us of the service, dedication, and bravery of the armed forces and first responders every day to keep our country safe,” she said.
On Saturday, residents, active and retired military personnel, and numerous borough first responders along with state and local political leaders, including Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, Senator Patrick Diegnan, Jr., Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin, Mayor Anesh and members of the Borough Council, gathered at Monument Park.
The 2 p.m. ceremony began with the presentation of flags by representatives of American Legion Chaumont Post 243, an opening prayer shared by Reverend John Paul Alvarado of Sacred Heart and a performance of the National Anthem by Madison Miller. South Plainfield eighth grader Nadia Blouin detailed the origination and significance of Armed Forces Day and local Boy Scouts read the flag dedications. Additionally, South Plainfield High School junior Kyle Kelly performed Taps, which was followed by a gun salute by the American Legion.
The event also featured special guests speakers, including Ryan and Hannah’s brother Andrew Rhoads. According to Andrew, ‘the field is doing more than honoring those who served for us; in a way it gives them a legacy… a chance to be known.’
“By honoring those who put their safety on the line for us and giving them a legacy of their own, we can raise awareness of an increasing alarming epidemic in our armed forces,” said Andrew, adding that, everyday, 22 veterans and active duty members lose their life to traumatic injury or PTSD-related causes.
“Through tributes such as the Field of Honor we raise awareness and show those who served that we are thankful for their service,” Andrew said. “War follows our veterans home and while we enjoy the freedoms they secure for us, the battle continues for them. Now is our turn to fight.”
Lt. Gov. Guadagno, herself the mother of an active duty Air Force man, delivered a heartwarming thank you to the Rhoads family. “A day like today you cannot put into words. Hannah, you are fabulous for remembering your brother and fabulous for putting on this event but my heart truly has to go out to your mother,” said Guadagno, calling Barbara Rhoads, a Gold Star Mother, up to stand by her side.
“Today, it is not just about the fallen soldiers we see here around us or those who have served and are in uniform now. It’s about the families who have sacrificed everything so that we can all be standing here right now,” the Lt. Gov. added. “Let’s never forget the sacrifices of not only those who are active duty or veterans, those who have passed and those who are serving, but also the mothers.”
A lifelong resident of South Plainfield, Diegnan thanked the Guadagno for coming and commended Hannah and Andrew for their efforts. “I found it reassuring that everyone who has participated here today so far is a young person. Sometimes, we have a tendency to take this country for granted and it is just so wonderful to see young people involved today,” said Diegnan, reminding those present what the American flag represents.
“Right now, in 150 countries around the world, there are over a million men and women, Americans, fighting for that flag and protect what we stands, what our country stands for. Let’s never take it for granted,” said the senator. “Thank you letting me be a part of this today and God bless America.”
Council President Derryck White also thanked the Rhoads family for all they did to see the Field of Honor come to fruition. “They had a dream, a vision, and they powered it with passion. Then they took it a step forward and allowed all of us to participate in that dream, that vision, and bring our own brand of passion to it,” said White. “All around us we see these flags honoring and remembering the sacrifices of so many … the words that pop out repeatedly are ‘commitment,’ ‘dedication,’ ‘sacrifice.’”
White made note how, like the flags set up the field, those gathered at Monument Park were also assembled in a circular fashion, side-by-side. “These flags will soon be gone; this Field of Honor will come down [but it] can be carried on by each of us, as individuals, honoring our commitment, giving our sacrifice to our community and to the world, to let people know that this Field of Honor is not for a week, or for a day, but that it is something engrained in who we are…” he said.
Mayor Anesh added, “It should be no surprise that it takes an extraordinary individual to sign up for the military and service on behalf of our great country. It should also come as no surprise that it takes an extraordinary individual to also serve as a first responder – our firefighters, our police officers, our EMS personnel…” said Anesh. “We are here today because of another extraordinary individual. Hannah.”
Anesh recalled meeting with Hannah last summer shortly after the high school student and her family attended the state’s first Field of Honor in Bedminster, NJ. There, a flag dedicated in memory of Ryan was among the 200 displayed at the town’s River Road Park. The event – and all it signified – inspired Hannah to hold a Field of Honor in her hometown during Armed Forces Week 2017.
“I asked her how I could help and offered her all of volunteers and resources within the borough to make this a reality for her … and Hannah said ‘I want to do this.’ And without a doubt she did,” said the mayor. “She assembled a team and did it for the love of her country, for her love of her borough, and for the love of her brother…On behalf of the entire governing today, I want to thank you for the great job that you have done.”
In planning the Field of Honor, Hannah received help from parents Barbara and Trent, brother Andrew, boyfriend Cody and the Boyle Memorial Foundation as well as sought sponsorships and donations from individuals, organizations and businesses with the goal of donating proceeds to borough’s department of social services.
Major sponsors included Investors Bank and the Italian American Club of South Plainfield along with CharityVine, the South Plainfield Business Association, Pedersen Realty, and McCriskin-Gustafson Home for Funerals as well as Freeholder Charles Kenny, KC’s Korner, and the Abbatista Family. As a result, close to $5,000 will go to the South Plainfield Food Pantry and be used to stock their shelves, purchase grocery store gift cards, and provide assistance for those with other needs.
South Plainfield’s inaugural Field of Honor ceremony also featured a performance of God Bless America by Miller, an inspiring closing prayer from Rev. Alvarado, and closing remarks from Hannah and Barbara Rhoads.
“Once again, South Plainfield has come together to show its patriotism in honoring all the military, first responders, and hometown heroes,” said Hannah, extending thanks to all who helped make the event possible. “This is all so surreal to me and could not have been possible without you all joining us today. Thank you to everyone who dedicated a flag in honor or in memory of a loved one.”
Barbara added, “Our family…is extremely proud of Hannah. It was a nine-month process. There were ups and downs and, as a 16-year-old, she certainly learned what it means to project manage. There was tears and laughter. Thank you so much for doing this in honor of Ryan and thank you all for coming.”
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