Sunday, January 27, 2008
Oh say can you see...
Whenever I spy the American flag at half-staff I worry something extraordinary has tragically occurred, as in 9/11 or the Virginia Tech Campus massacre, or an X-president has died.
But with Amherst College, you never know. As of this evening their prominently placed illuminated flag (high on a hill overlooking the downtown) has been in mourning for almost a week, probably for Jenny Kim a 22-year-old senior who took her own life.
According to flag protocol only the Governor of our state or President of the United States can order the American flag to half-staff. It’s like “crying wolf”, because if Old Glory is routinely down to half-staff, you no longer notice.
I too am guilty of symbolic flag abuse as a noble gesture. In mid-May, 1994 when Jackie Kennedy Onassis succumbed to cancer about a month after Richard Nixon died, and President Clinton enforced flag protocol for President Nixon I thought “that lying SOB gets the flag down, but because Jackie was never officially anything (besides a President’s wife who carried our nation thru the darkest hours of my childhood) she’s ignored?”
So I called Amherst Town Manager Barry Del Castilho who was, naturally, on vacation, and got Nancy Maglione the Finance Director who was “acting Town Manager”, and earnestly requested the Amherst flag in town center go to half-staff to honor Jackie.
Ms. Maglione at first balked: “The flag is scheduled to be down for Nixon until this evening, so if we keep it lowered for one extra day nobody will even notice,” she replied.
“I will, and so will you!” I responded.
The next day the flag stayed down…and surprisingly some folks noticed. When one or two called Town Hall to enquire they were told it was down an extra day to honor Jackie Kennedy Onassis.
A conservative local radio jock complained most vociferously about the breech of flag protocol. “What an ass”, I thought.