Amid tragedy and terror, Americans raise Old Glory in an enduring sign of solidarity

Thursday, September 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Just Monday, town leaders in Amherst, Mass., voted to restrict how often and how long American flags could fly along downtown streets. In the words of the town manager, extended displays seemed ``a bit too much.''

The next day, as the World Trade Center crumbled and the Pentagon burned, the banners were quickly hoisted once more on flagpoles lining two streets in the politically liberal town that is home to the University of Massachusetts. But now Old Glory flies at half-staff.

In the agonizing hours since terrorists stole thousands of lives and Americans' sense of security, one notion has been reinforced as never before: Americans have a deep-rooted, if sometimes dormant, sense of pride and patriotism.

Inquiries at military recruitment offices have swelled. Congressional members burst into ``God Bless America'' on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. E-mail writers declared Thursday ``U.S. Color Day,'' a time for wearing red, white and blue.

And then there's Old Glory.

As Wednesday's search and rescue effort continued amid the smoldering debris of the World Trade Center, workers said one symbol of survival helped them keep going: A flag had been planted in the rubble, ``just to let them know that America's not dead,'' said firefighter Ronald Coyne.

From the Midwest to Cajun Country, specialty shops, hardware stores, Kmarts and Wal-Marts were selling out of flags.

Three were raised outside the North Dakota home of retired policeman Craig Sjoberg. Peggy Ross, a sales clerk at an Albany, N.Y., jewelry store, put them inside the windows of her shop. In Bountiful, Utah, Boy Scouts helped hang them outside of homes.

And on the roof of the Pentagon, a huge banner of red, white and blue was draped Wednesday near the wall demolished by a hijacked plane in one of the terrorist attacks. The banner was hung for President Bush's visit.

``I wish I had a truckload,'' said Barby Fryer, manager of the Kmart in Schenectady, N.Y., which had sold out of flags by late Wednesday morning.

Some, like Nevada real estate agent Virgil Ballard, gave them away. One by one, cars pulled up to the curb near Ballard's Reno realty office to grab one of 1,500 flags he had left over from a fund-raiser.

At the Colonial Flag and Specialty store in Sandy, Utah, customers clutching flags by the handful waited to pay for their purchases. Truck driver Bobby Whiteman planned to drape two flags from his rig's side mirrors. Don Rosenkrantz, a fire battalion chief, bought flags to hang on his fire truck. Even Martin Christensen, who has a flag flying outside his home, was in line. He wanted a bigger one.

Internet users encouraged the displays in chain e-mails that were dispatched to dozens of users at a time.

``America needs, perhaps more than ever before, to unite in spirit _ that will give us the strength to see us through this catastrophe,'' one note read.

In Grants Pass, Ore., the Caveman Kiwanis Club braved an early morning chill Wednesday to festoon lightposts with flags. Normally set out only on patriotic holidays, the flags were hung at the behest of bookstore owner Ruth McGregor.

McGregor got the idea after recalling her mother's response to Pearl Harbor: She immediately hoisted Old Glory on the front porch of their house.

``Most of the comments I've been getting are, `God bless you, and God bless America.' Just over and over,'' she said. ``One lady called me and said, `It gave me a focus and something to hang onto.'''