In the late summer of 2001 the Amherst Veterans Department placed 29 commemorative American flags in the downtown one gorgeous August morning. Amherst is a quaint New England college town proud of the motto "Amherst, where only the h is silent."
Some people complained about the flags so the Select Board, keepers of the public way, held a public hearing on the night of 9/10/01, only 12 hours before the first plane struck the North Tower.
At that packed meeting a UMass professor branded the American flag a "symbol of terrorism, death, fear and destruction," which the Wall Street Journal dubbed "the ill-timed quote of the century."
The Select Board voted to allow the 29 flags to fly on only six occasions: Flag Day, July 4, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Patriots Day, and Labor Day. In late October, 2001 I went back to the Select Board and asked them to add 9/11 to the short list of days the commemorative flags could fly. They refused.
But the flags did fly on the first and second anniversary of that awful day. Then a new Select Board came into power and the flags were kept down from 2004 through 2008 despite my annual appeal. On May 16, 2007 Amherst Town Meeting voted down my petition to allow the flags to fly every 9/11 by a two-thirds vote, 96-41.
Because of a public relations backlash the Select Board came up with a "compromise" based on the lopsided Town Meeting vote allowing the flags up once every three years, starting in 2008. But when I went before them in 2009 with my annual request -- not only did they not allow them up that year but they changed the "compromise" to once every five years starting in 2011, so they would be up on the 10th anniversary and thereafter on "milestone anniversaries."
Last year the Select Board again refused to let the flags fly on 9/11 and another severe nationwide backlash resulted. So this time around they decided not to even place the issue on the 8/26 Select Board agenda -- the last meeting before 9/11 -- so it could be officially acted upon.
Amherst is now swelling with tens of thousands of returning college students, many of them too young at the time to comprehend the enormity of what transpired that otherwise gorgeous Tuesday morning.
The town allows the commemorative flags to fly on Memorial Day, a somber occasion. 9/11 is a somber day that should never, never, never be forgotten.
Flying the commemorative flags in downtown Amherst EVERY 9/11 is a simply but powerful reminder of what we lost on that terrible, terrible day.
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