Amherst officials offer perspectives on decision not to fly American flags on 9/11

By Diane Lederman The Republican

AMHERST – Over two dozen American flags will not fly from town utility poles on September 11 this year, in keeping with Select Board policy to recognize the anniversary of the terrorist attacks by flying the 28 flags every five years.

The flags were flown last year to mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks on New York City, the Pentagon, and an airliner over Pennsylvania. The flags will be flown again in 2016.

But resident Larry J. Kelley again this week asked the Select Board to fly the flags annually. On September 10, 2001, the board voted to fly the small flags on the light posts downtown on six holidays. Kelley believes September 11 should become a seventh date.

Kelley said that the members of the incoming freshman class of 4,600 UMass students arriving in town now were likely six or seven at the time of the attacks. In 2016, the next time the flags will be flown, those students will be four years older – and many will have already graduated and left the town.

Tony A. Maroulis, the executive director of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, who was living in New York at the time, supported Kelley’s request to fly the flags.

“I understand how polarizing the flag can be in this community. Some might look at the flags as a brazen symbol of might and oppression,” Maroulis said. “Others look at it as a source of pride in who we are, and what we can be. Whatever the complicated or simplistic responses to the flags, flying them on 9/11 would allow us to reflect and meditate upon them.”

Cinda Jones, president of the Cowls Companies, also wrote that the current “kind of timing seems like wishy-washy Amherst compromise at best. That timing says to me that Amherst believes 9/11 is occasionally worthy of remembrance and respect, but 4/5 of the time it’s not.”

Jones continued: “Well, it either is, or it isn’t. You don’t celebrate or commemorate something worthwhile every five years.”

Town Manager John P. Musante said the board represents “the entire community, and there’s a difference of opinions within the community.” He said that the flags at municipal sites are flown at half-staff and the Fire Department holds its annual commemoration at 9:55am that day at the station mark the holiday.

Select Board chairwoman Stephanie J. O’Keeffe wrote in a statement, “Some people think this display feels somber and respectful. Others think it sets a festive tone, inappropriate for such a solemn occasion.” She wrote that people can disagree just as people mourn a loved one at a wake in different ways.

“By doing so every fifth year on the anniversaries — we are being inclusive of those who find that most meaningful and appropriate; by not doing so in the other years, we are recognizing those who feel otherwise,” she wrote. “We are doing this with utmost respect for both perspectives on how best to mark the overwhelming grief of that horrific day.”

Kelley said he will return with his request next year.

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