I’m going to have them burned. That’s the protocol for respectfully disposing of worn and tattered American flags. These two flags have been at my home for almost 17 years. It’s time to put them to rest. There is a story behind them.
Like the rest of the country, I was shocked and horrified on Sept. 11, 2001. I was home writing an article when I received a telephone call that there had been a terrible plane crash in New York City. I stopped what I was doing, turned on the television, and sat transfixed as I watched the tower burn.
“How could such a thing happened,” I wondered out loud. Then, the unthinkable happened. I saw the packed commercial aircraft crash into the second tower in a ball of flame and smoke. I, and the rest of the world, now knew that this was no accident.
Before very long had passed, another passenger plane plowed into the Pentagon and another crashed in a field in Pennsylvania — a plane whose destination was likely either the White House or the U.S. Capitol building.
Brave and desperate passengers, aware of what was happening, stormed the cockpit and lost their lives saving the lives of hundreds of others. Soon, there wasn’t an aircraft in the skies over America as all non-military aircraft were grounded. By day’s end, 2,996 people were dead, including the 19 murderers. Over 6,000 were injured.
As of August 2013, medical authorities concluded that 1,140 people who worked, lived, or studied in Lower Manhattan at the time of the attack have been diagnosed with cancer as a result of “exposure to toxins at Ground Zero.” It has been reported that over 1,400 9/11 rescue workers who responded to the scene in the days and months after the attacks have since died. At least 11 pregnancies were lost as a result of 9/11.
Feeling both helpless and the need to do something, I drove to the hardware store and purchased an American flag. Returning home, I installed it on my front porch and vowed that it would fly until whoever was behind these despicable acts was brought to justice. Although I violated flag protocol, the flag flew 24/7 in all kinds of weather. I expected justice to be swift. But it wasn’t.
Afghanistan was invaded and the terrorist training camps were wiped out. Iraq, too, would feel the power of America’s military. But the mastermind, Osama bin Laden, went into hiding. Month after month, year after year, the flag continued to fly. It was joined by a second flag, a U.S. Marine Corps flag. Month after month, year after year, bin Laden remained at large.
Eventually, because the flag was becoming worn, I replaced it with another. The original flag, I put in the downstairs closet. Month after month, year after year, the second flag continued to fly seven days a week, 24 hours a day in all types of weather. George W. Bush, who had vowed that the United States would bring justice to bin Laden, served his two terms in office and left the White House. The mastermind remained free.
It would be almost 10 years until justice visited bin Laden in the compound located in Abbotabad, Pakistan. It would be President Barack Obama who authorized the mission of May 2, 2011. In the dead of the night, U.S. Navy SEALs crossed into Pakistan, attacked the compound, and found the mastermind. The last thing bin Laden saw was the face of retribution.
I left the flag up. The flags had flown for 10 years; why not keep it up as a symbol that the one who visited death and destruction on the nation would do so no more? Eventually, I replaced that flag too, keeping both of them together downstairs in the closet.
The flag that now flies, along with a new Marine Corps flag, is crisp, bright, and colorful. Unlike the flag that represented defiance, this one celebrates the greatness of a country that has rebuilt on the Ground Zero site, has refurbished the Pentagon, and has memorialized those who died in the Pennsylvania field.
The other day, I took those worn, weathered, and tattered flags out of the closet and decided that their task was ended. Like the country, they had endured years of foul weather but had flown faithfully whether the winds were calm, breezy, or fierce. I took them off their rusted metal staffs, folded them carefully, and placed them in a white cardboard box. The worn and discolored Marine Corps flags joined them.
The flags will be taken to an organization, likely the American Legion or the Veterans of Foreign Wars, that will respectfully burn them — according to flag protocol. Like the SEALs on that night in 2011, their task has been accomplished.
In a few days it will be Sept. 11 again — the 17th anniversary of the worst attack on American soil in the nation’s history. Unlike the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which targeted the U.S. military, the attack on Sept. 11 targeted mostly civilians — men, women, even children. People who were just going about their lives, providing for their families, doing their jobs, living in peace.
As Osama bin Laden discovered, there was a price to pay for such cowardly brutality. America is not back. We never went anywhere. America is still here. We took the hit and got off the ground and fought back. Yes, we are still here.
By God’s grace, we will be here for all the tomorrows. And our people are still free and the flag of the United States of America still flies.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctk.life). He is the bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.]