Saturday, September 10, 2011

Final flight

Amherst downtown commemorative flag

Exactly ten years ago, at the mundane Monday night Select Board meeting, in the atypical quaint New England town of Amherst, a typical ideological clash played out over the fate of 29 commemorative American flags, branded by critics as "militaristic", and "a symbol of terrorism and death and fear and destruction and repression," or "it's not something to be proud of."

But a passionate defender of the flags said the most disconcerting thing of all, his voice tinged with anger: "You desecrated those flags! When you took those flags down, you might as well burn those flags." As I drove home that night, I wondered about how to undo the desecration of an American flag?

The next morning a massive, monstrous desecration unfolded--stunning beyond anything any of us could even imagine . The flags went back up at half staff that mournful morning and continued to fly until the day after Thanksgiving, when they came down on a particularly raw overcast day, after the cold wind whipped them like a boxer pounding a speed bag.

I then realized the flags were destined to wear out, and, like the Twin Towers, disappear in smoke and fire. A baptism that would undo any perceived desecration but leave behind nothing to remember. So I decided to preserve just one, and embarked on a quest to cure a sacrilege without sacrificing the cloth.

On the night of December 1, less than three months after the sneak attack, Ground Zero was still smoldering and New York City was bathed in an almost purifying white light from a full moon hanging in a cloudless sky. Security was extraordinarily tight, with every street heading to Ground Zero guarded by police and military--some of them wielding machine guns.

I had told the flag's story so many times that evening it became a well rehearsed elevator pitch. Finally, one taciturn beat cop managed to get me down to the sacred ground, helping me hold the flag for my nervous wife to capture in her fist attempt at using a digital camera, and then silently escorted us back to a somber crowd watching from behind police barricades.

My parting words to him were a kind of a therapeutic promise. The Ground Zero flag would fly in Amherst town center one last time, "on the day Bin Laden is captured or killed--preferably the latter." It was the only time he almost smiled.

I retired early and missed President Obama breaking the joyous news about the death of the monster who masterminded 9/11. So tomorrow I will do as I have done annually since the first anniversary: mark the time of the attack standing in Amherst town center holding an American flag.

Only this time--with a very special flag. A promise kept...albeit late.

Columnist Izzy Lyman remembers the "Eve of Destruction."


Anonymous said...

Larry, you've chosen to write the story of September 10 and September 11, and shape it your way.

Ten years later, I choose to hear what was said at that Select Board meeting, by both sides of the argument, as exemplifying, in the Town of Amherst, the best of the American spirit of tolerance, the willingness to let everyone be heard. The terrible events of the next day do not change that.

At the same time, I have the deepest respect for the argument in Justice John Paul Stevens' dissent in the Supreme Court flag-burning case.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

and Monday morning at 9:30 AM

A homeless man was sleeping soundly among the small flags on the lawn of Kendrick Park.

God Bless America