Showing posts with label 9/11. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 9/11. Show all posts

Friday, September 9, 2016

And Then There Were 30

With liberty and justice for all

Amherst will remember the saddest day of our -- or any other -- generation this Sunday with the 15th annual 9/11 ceremony at North Fire Station.

The commemorative flags and the BIG flag in town center came down on Tuesday after being up for Labor Day but returned this morning for the sad Sunday anniversary.

And for the first time in history, the commemorative flags number the original 30 that were purchased back in the summer of 2001.

29 of them went up in town center in the middle of August that year on an absolutely gorgeous summer morning but immediately created controversy because they made our little college town look to patriotically festive.

On the night of September 10th -- the Eve of Destruction -- after hearing a UMass professor brand our flag "A symbol of terrorism and death and fear and destruction and repression," the Select Board decided to allow them up for only six holidays annually.

The next morning the world changed, but Amherst did not.

But last year, under the leadership of Chair Alisa Brewer, the Select Board finally came to their senses and unanimously added 9/11 to the annual days the commemorative flags can fly, for as long as the Republic stands.

Old Chapel, UMass Amherst

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Never Forget: Never, Never, Never

Town broke out the BIG flag for Labor Day, and will again for 9/11

After 15 years you would think the words would come easier, with feelings less raw after the memories -- as searing as they were -- start to fade.

But no, at least not yet anyway.

Maybe for the 25th anniversary ...

(Probably not.)

Click to enlarge/read

Friday, July 1, 2016

Commemorative vs Festive

Commemorative flags up for July 4th, main flag at half-staff to honor Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Clement, US Navy, a Massachusetts native

After almost 15 years -- with 14 of them being a constant battle -- I'm a little embarrassed to admit this morning was the first time I read the 2002 Annual Town Report entry for our illustrious Select Board, probably written by then Town Manager Barry Del Castilho.

 Click to enlarge/read

Now it somewhat makes sense one of the (less flag hating) arguments used to keep the 29 commemorative flags down for a dozen of the 9/11 anniversaries since that stunning day:  The misconception that the commemorative flags are "festive".

And obviously 9/11 is as far from festive as one can possible get.

But if the flags were always intended to be "festive" why was Memorial Day included in the original six days our Select Board came up with at that infamous meeting only 12 hours before two planes streaked out of clear blue sky, impaling the most prominent buildings in the New York skyline?

Because Memorial Day is a time to remember those who have laid down their lives to keep us free.  So that too is not exactly "festive."

Main Street, USA

As we slowly slide closer and closer to the 15th anniversary of that still unbelievable morning, all it takes (for me at least) is a typical gorgeous sun splashed summer day, or perhaps the ringing of church bells, to momentarily bring me back to that horrible, horrible time.

But perhaps the presence of those flags -- now down to 21 -- will inspire some of the thousands of college aged youth flocking to our little town for the first time to pause for a brief moment, to ponder the joys of life we take for granted.

Something horrifically snatched from 3,000 innocent souls, who were simply going about their business on a late summer morning that started out ever so routine.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Few, The Proud

Heart of downtown this morning

I always love it when the DPW "forgets" to retrieve all the commemorative flags after one of the few holidays they are allowed to fly in the downtown.  In this particular case, Flag Day.

And by the weathered looks of it one of the original 29 commemorative flags purchased in the late summer of 2001.  Then Veterans Agent Rod Raubeson had put in a capital request to acquire the flags as part of his commemoration budget and it passed Town Meeting without comment.

But after he put them up in mid-August on a beautiful day much like today to test the apparatus, he decided to leave them up.  At that point some people complained.  Bitterly.

The illustrious Amherst Select Board, keepers of the public way, met to discuss the matter at their ever so routine Monday night meeting September 10th, 2001. 

The next morning routine went out the window.  Forever.

On August 31, after 14 years of stubborn refusal, the Select Board voted to allow the commemorative flags to fly annually on 9/11, although of the original 29 flags many have been lost or stolen.

Maybe I'll take up a collection ...

Patriotic UMass construction contractor

Friday, September 11, 2015


Town center 7:27 AM

The town put up the really BIG flag this morning, at half staff, to remember the 2,997 fellow citizens who started their morning just like we did now, but never lived to see the sun set on that ignominious day.

Amherst Fire Department will hold their 13th annual ceremony at Central Station this morning at 9:45 AM, and if it is still raining ... I'm sure no one will even notice.

 9:35ish Getting ready for the ceremony
9:45ish Final lineup
10:30ish Final moments in town center 
Big flag mournfully flapping 3:00 PMish 

New York City 9/11 night (photo by Richard Marsh)

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Can't Forget

 Commemorative flag flies from downtown utility pole

The commemorative flags went up in the downtown yesterday at the crack of dawn to mark Labor Day, and for the first time in 14 years I hope they come down on Tuesday.

That way, when they go back up on Thursday or early Friday morning it sends the clear signal that they are returning to their perch to remember 9/11, a morning unlike any in our history.

Today is one of those 9/11-like days: late summer, our little college town swelling in size with an influx of college aged youth, all under a severe clear blue sky.  The bright yellow sun slowly arcing east to west.

Perhaps if the weather had not been so stunningly beautiful that morning the untested kamikaze pilots may have had a tougher time hitting their otherwise hard to miss targets.

Yes, we could probably come up with a few "what if" scenarios that could have changed the outcome that fateful morning, which only adds to the sorrow. Life moves on -- it always does.

So when you see those 23 commemorative American flags in town center on Friday (no matter what the weather is like) pause for moment to remember our innocent dead, perhaps say a prayer.

And hope it never happens again.

The main town flag will fly at half staff on 9/11 as will all municipal flags nationwide

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

As It Always Should Have Been

 Commemorative flags in town center

The one hour discussion last night at the regular Monday meeting of the Amherst Select Board was one of the more heart wrenching experiences of my 30+ year involvement in civic engagement.

I had thought about bringing along the Ground Zero flag but thought one of my Trolls would say I was using it as a prop, or contacting a couple dozen people to show up as a sign of public support.   

But in the end decided to let the issue speak for itself. Let the reminder of that day -- that awful, awful day -- take center stage.  The spirit of 3,000 slaughtered Americans can't be ignored.

I took a quick photo of the Board with my iPbone from my front row seat about half-way through the discussion and grudgingly prepared my 1st breaking news bulletin:  "Select Board votes 3-2 NOT to fly the commemorative flags annually on 9/11."

Then even more ominously, Chair Alisa Brewer expressed doubt about the Board reaching consensus and asked almost rhetorically if they should even come to a vote because avoiding a formal vote would simply keep the current once-every-five-year policy in place.  I reedited my tweet:

"Select Board pocket vetoes annual flying of commemorative flags every 9/11, avoids taking a vote."

But then Chair Alisa Brewer, who is the most experienced member of the Board, threw down the gauntlet by making the motion to support annual flying.  An unusual break in protocol as the Chair never make motions.  Runner up most experienced Board member Jim Wald seconded the motion.

Now I thought they would return to a 3-2 vote against annual flight, but at least it would be a matter of public record.

Then, thankfully, Connie Kruger came up with the idea of adding the President's call for a "National Day of Service"  (Town Manager Musante calmly crafted it into the motion) and a sea change took place.

The three least experienced Select Board member, who previously expressed doubt about annual flying, almost instantly came into the fold.  The motion passing unanimously.

In the end, a margin far better than I expected.

But still, bittersweet.  What happened that terrible day is forever seared into our memories and nothing will ever change that.

The presence of 29 commemorative flags, I hope, will bring us some small degree of comfort -- just as it did those three firefighters who raised a borrowed flag over the smouldering rubble of what was only hours before, those majestic Twin Towers of glass and steel.

For the youth now flocking to our college town, I sincerely hope the flags will serve as a simple reminder, so they pause for a brief moment to acknowledge the pernicious price we paid that otherwise bright & beautiful morning ... simply for being Americans.

The cost of freedom.

AFD annual 9/11 ceremony is at Central Station 9:45 AM

Friday, August 28, 2015

A Final Request

Monday night marks my 14th annual visit (the 1st being in October, 2001) to the Amherst Select Board to request 9/11 be added to the permanent short list of events the 29 commemorative flags fly in the downtown to commemorate, both celebratory -- like July 4th -- or Memorial Day, which is somber.  

And over the course of my lifetime days just don't get any sadder than the morning of 9/11, which dawned as bright and beautiful as any day in the history of our country. 

But this will be my last such visit.

The board will either agree to allow the flags to fly every year rather than once every five years, thus ending the need for such annual visits; or they will say "No," to finally -- irrevocably -- suck the vital essence from my soul.

Because if this particular Select Board (where 4 of 5 individual members have previously supported annual flying) can't now come together to do the right thing, then all hope is lost.

Click to enlarge/read

Amherst Town Meeting, 2007 (another good reason to nix Town Meeting)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Searingly Powerful Symbols

Belchertown Civil War monument, Town Common

The two hour public hearing in the quaint little college town of Amherst regarding the flying of 29 commemorative flags in the heart of the downtown had a particularly dramatic moment: a UMass professor branded the flag, "A symbol of terrorism and death and fear and destruction and repression ... it's nothing to be proud of."

And no, she was not talking about the Confederate battle flag.

Ironically enough terrorism, death, fear and destruction would rain down from the brilliant blue skies only 12 hours later, the worst foreign attack on American soil in the entire history of our nation.  But that was almost 14 years ago, and life goes on.  For us. 

Because of my -- some would argue "in your face" -- insistence the commemorative American flags be allowed to fly every 9/11 to honor and remember the 3,000 slaughtered that day, a "deal" was brokered.  

Kind of like the deal brokered in South Carolina to move the Confederate battle flag from the State Capital building to a nearby historic monument.

Select Board Chair Gerry Weiss proposed they be allowed up once every three years to reflect the shameful 2007 Town Meeting vote that rejected my request by a two-thirds majority.  So in 2009 they did fly in the downtown. 

But then it occurred to new Select Board Chair Stephanie O'Keeffe that the restrictive deal would prevent the flags from flying on the 10th and 20th anniversary.  

So when I went to the Select Board in 2010 with my annual request, not only did they say "no" (although two-of-five voted "yes") to that year, but they then changed the "once every three years" to once every five for "milestone anniversaries".

So that's why the commemorative American flags are not allowed to fly this coming 9/11, but will fly next year on the 15th anniversary of that awful morning.

Simply because the politicians seem to think there's still a (significant) number of citizens who could agree with the UMass professor from all those years ago.   

It's time to change both those deals brokered over the flying of flags.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A Day Of Respect

You can tell BigY is family owned

Oddly enough I've never been a h-u-g-e fan of Flag Day simply because I believe every day should be a day to respect and honor our national symbol.

I once even tried to trade Flag Day for 9/11 with our illustrious Select Board.  A deal they refused to take.

As most of you know by now the Amherst Select Board, keepers of the public way, voted 4-1 on the early evening of September 10, 2001 to allow 29 commemorative flags to fly in the downtown to mark only six anniversaries: Patriots' Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, July 4, Labor Day and Veterans Day.

Since that normally obscure public meeting took place about 12 hours before the first plane found its target in Manhattan, September 11 was still just another late summer day.  And that particular 9/11 dawned sooooo stunningly beautiful ...

But acrid black smoke soon crowed out that crystal clear blue sky leading to a gaping hole in the New York City skyline.

This fast approaching 9/11, the 14th anniversary,  the commemorative flags are not scheduled to fly in downtown Amherst.

Next year they will, however, because it's a "milestone anniversary."  And then not again until 2021, when the average incoming freshman to our three institutes of higher education had not even been born on the awful day.

Since Amherst forgot to put the commemorative flags up today, Flag Day, maybe now the Select Board will take my deal?  

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Flag Kerfuffle

Seems like Facebook, being such a visual medium, is good for a daily dose of outrage (or two).

When you use an image as powerful as the American flag it's easy to get noticed ... sometimes more so than you bargained for.

My initial reaction to a "flag flap" is always that of a police detective working a crime scene:  what's the motivation and intent of the perpetrator?

As long as no disrespect is intended and no gross liberties are taken with the (unenforced) Flag Code, I'm quick to declare innocence.

So if a man who serves this great country of ours wants to wrap his newborn babe in an American flag, that works for me.  Especially if the photographer is also a proud veteran.

I would much rather see him doing it than a two-bit politician wrapping himself in the flag as part of an orchestrated election campaign.

The all too typical Ivory Tower induced flag controversy in California, where students at UC Irvine voted to ban the American flag from their government offices, did bring on the shiver of deja vu.

Their left wing 20 point manifesto brands the American flag as representing "colonialism and imperialism" only to "serve as symbols of patriotism or weapons for nationalism."

Kind of like the UMass professor who strongly criticized the 29 commemorative American flags hanging in downtown Amherst on the night of September 10, 2001: "Actually, what the flag stands for is a symbol of terrorism and death and fear and destruction and repression."

Even without social media that quote, dubbed "The ill timed quote of the century" in a front page Wall Street Journal article, still managed to reverberate from sea to shining sea -- almost instantly.

29 commemorative flags are allowed to remember 9/11 once every 5 years on "milestone anniversaries."  Next time up is 2016 -- the 15th anniversary

The irony of course is flag detractors oftentimes do their symbolic bid for attention at some obscure governmental meeting.  But when the Chinese curse kicks in ("Be careful what you wish for") they dive under their desks and complain about all the negative feedback.

Lesson #1 about a most precious freedom our flag represents:  The First Amendment is a two-way street.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Caving In To Terror

NASA Space Station photo taken 1/30/14

Normally,  I would not be in favor of our government spending tax dollars on Public Relations, prefering to let actions speak louder than advertising.

But in the case of a rogue nation invoking 9/11 in a cowardly anonymous threat to trample the First Amendment rights of a major private business, I'll make an exception.

The United States government should buy out the rights to "The Interview" from Sony Pictures Entertainment and release the movie for free on Christmas Day via Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and any other Internet or TV provider.

That way all Americans can, in the safety and privacy of their own home, send Kim Jong-un a collective "Fuck You."


"We are not going to tolerate … attacks from outlaw states by the strangest collection of misfits, loony tunes, and squalid criminals since the advent of the Third Reich."  President Ronald Reagan, 1985

Thursday, September 11, 2014


AFD Central Station 9:00 AM 

So another anniversary has come and gone.  Well, gone if you mark the duration of the attack:  Stunning in its savagery, unimaginable in the extent of damage inflicted in under two hours. 

The 13th anniversary remembrance at AFD Central Station brings it all back, a ritualistic reinforcement of grief.  The Chaplain's prayer, the ringing of the bell, police and fire personnel standing at attention and of course the heartrending bagpipes playing Amazing Grace.

AFD Central flag at half staff

My time in town center with one of the commemorative flags this year was perhaps the most unique out of the past 13 years.  A homeless individual, one of Amherst's usual suspects, came over and was being a nuisance.

He started by pulling out a lighter and acting as though he was going to set my flag on fire, and followed up with nasty, loud "expletive deleted" that would have made President Nixon blush.

All of which is protected by the First Amendment (okay, maybe not burning my flag, but burning his own).

Thus it reaffirmed for me the unique power of that glorious rectangular cloth of red, white and blue.  The freedom it so nobly represents, even though that freedom can be, at times, inconvenient.

After receiving four separate complaints from downtown businesses APD had a chat with my homeless friend

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


"... that these dead shall not have died in vain."

About the only thing I left out in my brief polite presentation to the Amherst Select Board Monday night is how cowardly it is to simply pocket veto the question of allowing the commemorative flags to fly on 9/11 tomorrow, on the unlucky 13th anniversary of that devastating day.

A cowardice that flies in the face of the ultimate sacrifice paid by over 400 first responders who rushed headlong towards the stricken Twin Towers and the Pentagon when everyone else was rushing away.

AFD Central Station 9/11/13  (This year ceremony starts at 9:00 AM)

Monday, September 1, 2014

A Day To Remember

Downtown Amherst Labor Day morn

Considering how arduous was the struggle to bring about sane regulations to protect the rights, health and safety of everyday workers, Labor Day is indeed something to remember.   And to celebrate, even though it should be tinged with reverence and respect for those who died in the endeavor.

Labor Day is one of only six days the Amherst Select Board allowed on the list of holidays worth remembering with commemorative flags in the downtown, at their infamous September 10, 2001 run-of-the-mill Monday night meeting.

Amazingly 9/11 is still not on the list.  Well at least not on the "annual" list.  The town grudgingly allows the commemorative flags to fly on 9/11 every five years on "milestone anniversaries," with the next one not until 2016.

How many of the almost 3,000 Americans murdered that morning were everyday working folks going about their daily work routine?

Between police, fire and military a day probably does not go by without someone dying in the line of duty.  That awful morning we lost 343 firefighters, 60 police officers, 55 military personnel, 15 EMTs and 3 court officers.

But the vast majority of casualties were just civilian workers both blue and white collar.

Slaughtered in cold blood on a Tuesday morning that deserved to be in the record books, but for a different reason:  A stunningly crystal clear blue sky, one of those majestic dying days of summer, which started off without a care in the world ...

If the town can annually fly the commemorative flags on Labor Day, and even more somber days like Memorial Day,  the worst attack on American soil in our entire history certainly merits the same level of respect.

A deserving protocol paid for in the most pernicious currency possible:  the vaporized blood of thousands of innocent Americans.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

What Our Flag Represents

9/11/2012 New York City financial district

My only concern with painting a crosswalk to resemble an American flag is that flag protocol forbids letting the flag touch the ground, and especially frowns on  treading all over it .   

But obviously those are (unenforced) rules and regulations for an actual American flag, the kind made of cloth or polyester and designed to be flown.

Besides, if it's good enough for New York City on the most sacred of anniversaries than it's good enough for me.  

Apparently not, however, for our sister city to the west, that other bastion of enlightened liberalism, Northampton.  "NoHo" to hipsters, or just plain "Hamp" to longtime residents.  

I would expect flag phobic Amherst to summarily dodge the idea of a patriotic crosswalk in the downtown, but I'm a little surprised by the Northampton Board of Public Works suddenly saying it's not in their jurisdiction to allow a patriotic crosswalk when they already allowed the rainbow one.

In my ill fated speech to Amherst Town Meeting seven years ago I invoked that same comparison, to no avail.

Let's hope Northampton comes to their senses before they start being compared to Amherst.  On a national stage. 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Main Street USA

Amherst downtown 6/14, aka Flag Day

On the night of September 10, 2001, less than 12 hours before the world changed, the Amherst Select Board had closed the contentious public hearing concerning 29 commemorative flags flying in the downtown and they were discussing the matter among themselves before coming up with a list of days to commemorate.

After Anne Awad had grudgingly stated she would support only July 4th for the extra flags to fly Select Board chair Carl Seppala, when giving his fuller list, said in a somewhat exasperated tone, "Well, they do call it Flag Day."

Flag Day probably gets a little lost since it comes smack in the middle of  two flag centric events: Memorial Day and July 4th.  Sort of like having a birthday a little too close to Christmas. 

Any day, however, is as good as another when it comes to honoring our flag -- and the boundless sacrifice it represents.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Hard To Forget

Amherst's famous commemorative flags honoring Patriot's Day

If you were there as it happened or simply watched as the visuals first started rolling in, the scenes becomes permanently etched in memory:  those unmistakable sounds, smoke rising, chaos, people screaming, the wail of emergency vehicles reverberating off multi-story buildings, punctuated by a fear of the unknown.  Who did this and why?

For "college aged youth" currently attending our esteemed institutes of higher education in one of the best college towns in America, Patriots Day will forever be remembered, because last year terrorists unleashed death and destruction in the heart of Boston.

Especially since it occurred at an event that celebrates the triumph of the human spirit, in a sport many still consider "pure".

And in patriotic Massachusetts, where pretty much everyone considers Boston, "our fucking city."

So flying the commemorative flags in downtown Amherst to remind us all of the terror we endured that day is hardly necessary.  We remember.  We always will.

Just as flying those same commemorative flags on 9/11 is unnecessary if done simply to remind us of the horrific destruction unleashed on our homeland that awful morning.  How could any of us possibly forget?

But what if you were only 5-years-old and shell shocked adults sheltered you from the devastating images live streaming out of Manhattan, Washington D.C. and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania?

This coming September the incoming 5,000+ freshman at our Colleges and University will, for the most part, have been only five years old on the morning of 9/11/01 -- too young to remember the chaos, sorrow and sheer terror that covered our country like a coroner's sheet.

Induced by the worst attack on American soil in our entire fucking history.

The commemorative flags are not scheduled to fly in downtown Amherst until 2016, to remember the 15th anniversary.   And then not again until 2021 for the 20th anniversary, when the incoming freshmen classes will not even have been born on that ignoble day.

Thus, collectively, the malicious memory starts to fade -- like Pearl Harbor.  And then suddenly, some fine morning as we busily go about our daily routine, it happens.  Again.

Flying the commemorative American flags in downtown Amherst every 9/11, as we do every Patriot's Day (and Memorial Day), will serve to honor the memory of 3,000 slaughtered innocent Americans and to remind us that evil exists.  It will always exist.

And without vigilance, evil triumphs.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

United We, Sort Of, Stand

UN flag flies 24/7, 365 days a year in front of Amherst Town Hall

One of the earlier political "firsts" for the loquacious little town of Amherst, trumpeted nationwide via the Associated Press (because print media loves "firsts") a generation ago, is still visible to this very day flying only yards from Town Hall.

And still talked about by Town officials.

Last Monday, with little comment, the Amherst Select Board voted unanimously to declare October 24 "United Nations Day" in Amherst.

Just as 40 years ago Amherst went all out to celebrate the anniversary (started in 1948) by becoming the fist "town" in America to "permanently" fly the UN Flag at their seat of government.

New York City and Los Angeles also fly the UN flag but they are, um, cities.

The late 60s and early 70s was a time of nationwide political upheaval -- especially in "college towns" -- mainly focused on the Vietnam War. Thus the anti-war movement found fertile ground in Amherst, "where only the h is silent".

And to this day, in town center, the weekly vigil for peace still holds court starting at high noon.

The fly the blue flag movement started with Mrs. Robert McGarrah, "housewife" of a UMass professor (naturally), who collected over 500 signatures in November, 1972 on a petition presented to the Amherst Select Board.  The first week of December the SB voted unanimously to approve the idea.


And as we know from the festering controversy over flying commemorative American flags on 9/11, which is banned four-out-of-every-five years, the Select Board alone has final say over the public way.

Ironically the petition stated:  "We can be patriotic citizens of the United States and a patriotic country in the world community."

Patriotic indeed.  

Monday, September 16, 2013


Amherst Town Center 9/11/11.  Commemorative flags will not fly again until 2016, unless

So I'm trying to anticipate the excuse the Amherst Select Board will conjure up this evening during the 7:15 PM flag discussion to reject placing on the local 3/25/14 election ballot the never ending question of flying the commemorative flags every 9/11, thus allowing the voters decide this issue once and for all.

Sure they will mention the shameful 2007 Amherst Town Meeting vote by a whopping 96-41 not to fly the flags annually.  And that advisory resolution had requested they fly at half staff, which completely negates the argument that the commemorative flags are  "too festive."

Kind of hard for the average person to misread the intentions of twenty nine 3' by 5' American flags at half staff.

And I'm sure one of them will argue that governance by referendum can be a dangerous thing.  Would slavery had ended 150 years ago if it were put up to a popular vote at the time?  Or would women have been given the right to vote in 1920 if it had been decided at the ballot box?

Of course the counter to that is we are Amherst, the only town (according to Tracy Kidder) with a "foreign policy." So sure, historically speaking the townspeople would have done the right thing.

As they will do on March 25 if the Select Board has the courage to allow this festering issue to come to a vote.

After all, they seem to love the tagline:  "Amherst, where only the h is silent."  Then why not let the people speak?