By Diane C. Lore Staten Island Advance
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — There were tears and hugs all around at Staten Island’s Morris Intermediate School in Brighton Heights as students and staff kept a promise to replace an American flag that was cruelly stolen by vandals from in front of a colleague’s house on Christmas Eve.
Students and staff surprised Paula Herbst, a school family worker, with a special flag that had been flown over the Freedom Tower.
Principal Susan Tronolone presented the flag, a photo of the flag as it flew over the Tower, and a special certificate from the city Fire Department to the stunned Mrs. Herbst as she dabbed away tears.
“I’m crying and crying so much. I really had no idea,” said Mrs. Herbst, who hugged several of the students and colleagues on stage, who were all wearing red, white and blue in her honor.
She said she is still distressed by the vandalism — which happened in broad daylight on Christmas Eve, in front of her Dongan Hills home — and is somewhat reluctant to fly the new flag outdoors for fear that the thieves would return.
Instead, Mrs. Herbst said, she intends to present the flag to her son, Jonathan, a police officer who was just promoted to detective and assigned to the mid-Island’s 122nd Precinct station-house. Her son was seriously injured in Iraq in 2004, while serving in the U.S. Army Rangers as a staff sergeant.
“I am really touched by the staff and kids here. This flag means a lot to me, and I will treasure it, and I know it will mean a lot to my son and family,” she said.
Just before the presentation several of the students read out loud from poignant letters they penned in class, addressing Mrs. Herbst and the thieves who stole the original flag.
“She’s a lovely woman,” said teacher Liz Ziznewski. “She’s willing to do anything for anyone. Her son has visited our students to discuss his service and dedication to our country. Unfortunately, the perpetrators of this crime lack respect for one of our country’s symbols,” she said.
But clearly, her students know better.