A man wearing a black suit jacket and red tie prays in front of a field of American flags.
Rev. Eleazer Akuchie, 3rd Ward representative for Mansfield City Council, prays over the Mansfield Kiwanis Club's "Field of Honor" on Sept. 11.

ONTARIO — Anyone under the age of 22 wasn’t yet born on Sept. 11, 2001.

That was an eye-opening fact for Kiwanis president-elect Rich Rader.

“I will jump on board with everyone else and say, ‘We must never forget.’ But I want us to realize it is impossible to never forget what you never knew,” he said.

Rader was co-chair of the Mansfield Kiwanis Flag Project “Field of Honor,” which is a new collection of 250 American flags displayed in front of the Area Agency on Aging at 2131 Park Ave. West.

This is the first year the Kiwanis Club has led the project, which is sponsored by Schmidt Security Pro, Ritter’s Office Outfitters, Mechanics Bank, Park National Bank, Mark and Zoi Romanchuk and Wilson Realty.

The green space in front of the Area Agency on Aging has the flags set up through Sept. 15 to remind visitors and passersby of the lives lost during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Rader thanked volunteers from Sluss Realty and key club members from Ontario High School and St. Peter’s High School for helping plant the flags over the weekend.

Anyone is welcome to dedicate a flag online to a first responder, military veteran or loved one. The cost is $50 and proceeds go toward supporting Kiwanis service programming.

“We would love to have each flag dedicated, but this is our first year, so I’m not sure how it’s going to go,” Rader said.

Kiwanis leaders gathered with elected officials, first responders and military veterans Monday morning to dedicate the “Field of Honor” to Americans who died in 9/11 and to local service members.

‘It’s an American statement’

The minister reflected on the sermon he gave the weekend after 9/11, noting he came up with an acronym for USA — unity, solidarity and appreciation.

“It’s possible to be unified and not uniform,” Rader said. “If we are different in every other aspect, we can still experience unity.

“We can find solidarity in what we desire to accomplish as Americans, and we can find appreciation as we realize the ever-growing value of our American citizens.”

Ontario Mayor Randy Hutchinson, a retired police officer, thanked the Kiwanis club for their work.

“This is a great remembrance and we really appreciate everyone being here,” he said. “We have to honor all of our veterans, especially our first responders and the citizens we lost that day.”

The 250 flags will be on display along Park Avenue West near the North Lexington-Springmill Road intersection.

Rader said the goal of the flag project is to have a place for local residents to honor first responders and teach younger generations about the effect 9/11 had on the country.

“The reason I love this kind of project is because this is not about how we’re different from one another,” he said. “This is not about all the differences of opinion we have. It’s not a political statement, it’s not a religious statement. It’s an American statement.”

Rader said he was inspired to work as a fire chaplain because of 9/11.

“It’s the greatest honor to serve those who serve our country,” he said. “And with a new generation who weren’t alive to understand the terrorist attacks, it is our responsibility to continue to tell the story of and thank our heroes.”

Rev. Eleazer Akuchie, 3rd Ward representative for Mansfield City Council, prayed over the field on Monday morning.

“We pray that we’ll be able to pass the memory of what happened to the next generation that they will not forget,” Akuchie said. “So they can fight the good fight of faith to keep America.”

The Field of Honor will remain on display in front of the Area Agency on Aging through Friday. People who buy or sponsor flag dedications in the Field of Honor can take their flag home after Sept. 15 if they wish.

Ball State journalism alumna. Passionate about sharing stories, making good coffee and finding new podcasts. You can reach me at grace@richlandsource.com.