2,000 flags fly in Wheaton to welcome July Fourth

Of all the ways to celebrate a bang-up Fourth of July, there’s not a lot of time for quiet reflection.

But a hush falls over the Wheaton Field of Honor, a sea of American flags waving in Seven Gables Park.

“It gives you goose bumps,” says Rudy Keller, a retired high school educator who enlists an army of volunteers to assemble and plant 2,000 flagpoles in a park soccer field.

Ezekiel Spencer, 11, his sister Liberty, 8, and their mother, Tonya Spencer of Naperville, walk through the Wheaton Field of Honor at Seven Gables Park last year. Families leave placards around the flagpoles in honor of a parent or child or spouse who’s served in the military.
John Starks/, 2023

Manhard Consulting, an engineering and surveying firm, used lasers to plot the 25 neat rows, with 80 flagpoles posted in each one. The solemn display stays up through July Fourth in tribute to veterans, the fallen, active-duty military and hometown heroes. The laminated tags attached to the 8-foot-tall flagpoles bear their names and often a personal, handwritten note left by their loved ones.

“The message on that tag makes each flag special and humbling,” Keller said.

On each evening leading up to Independence Day, there are Honor Guard ceremonies, plane flyovers and patriotic performances, starting with bagpipers at 6:30 p.m. in the field full of flags off Naperville Road.

The Christ Presbyterian Church choir will belt out the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” Sunday. The Chorus of DuPage will sing the melodies of George M. Cohan July 2. The nightly ritual will conclude with a rendition of taps.

Volunteers work Saturday to anchor flags in the Wheaton Field of Honor.
Brian Hill/

Some people visit the Field of Honor simply to walk among the flags and read the dedication tags.

“It’s something you’ll remember forever,” Keller said.

Keller has been organizing large-scale flag projects throughout DuPage County for some 15 years. He feels compelled to do it. His father, also named Rudy, was a World War II Navy veteran and tended to keep his service to himself.

“I believe in what the flag stands for, and it’s a beautiful event for the community,” Keller said.

It’s a beautiful scene around sunrise. Keller comes to the field early in the morning to turn off the floodlights illuminating the stars and stripes through the night.

“Some people are here for 20 minutes, and some people are here for several hours,” Rudy Keller, a longtime Wheaton resident, says of the visitors to the Field of Honor at Seven Gables Park.
Brian Hill/

“Usually, it’s very, very calm and very, very quiet. The field has a totally different kind of feeling to it,” he said.

The display, hosted by the Wheaton Park District and the Wheaton United Soccer Club, also raises funds for Warrenville VFW Post 8081. People can purchase a flag for $30 and take it home on July 4.

“It does energize me,” Keller said, “and I enjoy doing it, and it’s an honor to serve our community in this fashion.”

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