If flags told stories, what stories would they tell? Surely, they’d be of heroes all – tales of country, bravery, patriotism, and honor.
On Daniel Island again this year, more than 500 American flags will be flying along River Landing Drive, each symbolic of personal stories. The flag display, now in its second year, will be held June 25 to July 8, as part of the “Field of Honor” event sponsored by the Daniel Island Exchange Club (DIXC).
For $25, individuals or groups are invited to sponsor a flag to fly on a seven-and-a-half-foot flagpole along the roadway in honor of someone they consider to be a hero in their lives. No matter whether that hero be a member of the military, a care provider, a teacher – anyone whose story someone wants memorialized with a flag can be honored. Taken together, the flags create a proud display, but they have a charitable function as well: proceeds from the sponsorships will benefit a trio of charities, One80 Place, the Lowcountry Food Bank and the Dee Norton Child Advocacy Center.
As last year’s inaugural planting of the Daniel Island Field of Honor revealed, the impact of the display on passersby and flag sponsors alike is tangible, even more so for those who choose to honor more than one hero by sponsoring a flag. Wayne Fanning can vouch for that. A Mt. Pleasant resident and Navy veteran, Fanning comes from a long line of South Carolina military heroes and as such, he will be sponsoring eight flags this year.
One flag Fanning sponsored last year and again this year is for his late brother Richard “Ricky” Fanning, an Army veteran who gave his life to his country in Vietnam. Other flags date to different conflicts, as the Fanning family has been a military family since the Civil War.
“There’s one for my father who served in the Philippines in the Navy,” said Fanning. “He was partially disabled when he picked up a round that was a misfire and it went off in his hand. He lost sight in one eye and part of his hand in the process.”
“There will be one for my grandfather, who served in World War I and one for his father, who served in the Confederacy,” Fanning continued. “I’m sponsoring flags for my uncle, my mother’s brother Robert, who was a chaplain in the Navy during World War II, his brother Herbert, who was an Army Lieutenant who served in D-Day, and his other brother David, who was in the Navy in World War II.”
“It’s an emotional thing,” said Fanning, of walking the Field of Honor last year. “You sort of relive the times.”
Fanning remembers the emptiness he felt after his brother’s loss and the struggles his father had in trying to recover from his own wartime injuries.
“I was too young to know exactly how (my father) dealt with the initial effects of his wounds, but even later on he would have trouble from the wounds he had suffered,” continued Fanning. “He went through a long period of therapy trying to regain the use of his fingers and hands. During part of his therapy, he made shrimp nets, shrimp cast nets. It took a while to figure out how to do that with his limited ability, but he managed to make it work.”
Like his late brother, Ricky, and his other brother, Jack, Wayne Fanning also spent time as a military serviceman. Fanning served during the Vietnam War with the Navy on the U.S.S. Trenton, where he was a electrical expert working on radar and the hand-to-hand communications devices employed by the Marines. He and Jack had enlisted in the service out of college, where both attended the College of Charleston. And while he and his brother had declared their service, Wayne to the Navy and Jack to the Air Force, their brother, Richard, had been drafted into the Army.
“I figured that it would be best to plan my service rather than be uncertain about things, so I joined the Navy Reserves and drilled one night a week for a year before I went on active duty after I graduated,” added Fanning, the oldest of eight. “My brother flew out of a base somewhere in Southeast Asia monitoring Chinese radio broadcasts around Vietnam with the Air Force, and my other brother was drafted into the Army.”
“(Ricky) had just finished high school and he was working doing landscaping. He was there waiting to be drafted and so he was. He didn’t have a military career in mind, but he did his duty… he served his country,” said Fanning, the pride evident in his voice. “We were on a ‘shakedown cruise’ when the news came around. I got compassionate leave to fly home for the funeral. He was awarded the Bronze Star.”
“It was his decision what he wanted to do and I think he was proud of what he was accomplishing,” he continued, on the topic of the draft and his brother’s decision not to enter the service, as he and his brother Jack had done. “We knew that and he knew that, but that’s what he was willing to do.”
Pride echoes in Fanning’s words when he speaks of the Field of Honor and the flags that will soon line the grassy median on River Landing Drive.
“Every time I drive by…it’s a remembrance. I’m proud of that, proud of their service,” Fanning said. “It’s a symbol of the country, what the country stands for, and what times it’s necessary to fight to preserve.”