On Wednesday, September 11, 2013, I deviated from my usual route to work. I normally travel from my house on County Road 7 to First Avenue, turning down the street that takes me right to the News-Herald office. But for some reason I turned sooner, heading down Fifth Avenue—the old Gunflint Trail—and through town. I think I wanted the comfort of seeing the Big Lake on the day that will always hold a bit of sadness.
As I turned onto Highway 61, I could see a Grand Marais Fire Department truck parked in Harbor Park—ladder lifted high in the air, with an American flag snapping in the brisk breeze.
With a lump in my throat, I turned onto Wisconsin Street to take a closer look at the 9/11 memorial set up by our local firefighters. I felt even more like crying when I saw that the American Legion had also done its part. A beautiful row of flags stood along the Harbor Park wall.
None of us will ever really forget that horrible fall day in 2001 when 2,819 innocent people died in terror attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and on United Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
We can all describe what we were doing when we saw the attacks on TV. Or where we were driving when we heard about it on the radio. Or who told us to get to a TV or radio. We can easily recall the disbelief, the sadness and the fear.
But the memory of that tragic day does fade in the rush of everyday life. We are fortunate not to live in what was once the shadow of the magnificent Twin Towers. We don’t drive by the Pentagon on our way to work and we are nowhere near the memorial in that field in Pennsylvania.
I agree we should have this special day—Patriot’s Day—to stop and remember those lost and those who still mourn them.
Senator Amy Klobuchar said it well in a 9/11 press release, noting that we grieve our losses, but we should also give thanks for the heroism of our nation’s first responders and for the love and support that the American people shared in the days, weeks and months that followed the terror attack.
Klobuchar wrote, “Today we rededicate ourselves to that spirit of generosity and shared purpose and we recommit ourselves to the principles and the freedoms that make this country great—that no amount of evil can ever destroy.
“Our nation was shaken to the core on that day, but it did not crumble, and we can pay tribute to those we lost by standing taller and stronger and evermore committed to the values we cherish as Americans.”
Senator Al Franken too, issued a statement, noting, “Today we honor the memory of those who left us 12 years ago. At the same time, we stand up for those who are still serving our country and risking their lives to keep us safe.”
Klobuchar’s and Franken’s statements are echoed by leaders across the state and nation. It is a fitting memorial for those who perished to have Americans united in remembrance.
But I’m troubled about another aspect of this day.
I had some business at the U.S. Forest Service Gunflint Ranger District on the 9/11 anniversary. As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed the large flag on the Forest Service lawn flying at halfmast, as directed by law.
It’s a sign of respect for the victims of 9/11 and it is meant to honor them. But I am bothered by the lowering of our flag on a day that, like our senators said, should be a day of “rededication to the principles and freedoms that make this country great.”
We lower the flag in times of crisis and tragedy. It is an immediate, collective cry of sadness, a way to share the pain of loss with other Americans. It should be temporary. A nation cannot live in despair forever.
I know there are many who may disagree with me, but I think it’s time to stop lowering the flag on Patriot’s Day. Just as we should stand proudly together as Americans, we should fly our flag everywhere on September 11. On Patriot’s Day we should see flags on fire trucks, on churches, in store windows, on highway overpasses, on courthouse lawns. We should see the Star-Spangled Banner waving boldly against bright blue September skies.
Instead of lowering the flag—having it halfway down the ladder on the fire truck or halfway up the flagpole at government buildings—we should raise the flag high and proud in honor of those lost on 9/11 and in celebration of those who survived.
In honor of the strength of our nation.
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It was the worst day we have ever seen, but it brought out the best in all of us.
Senator John Kerry