Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Keeping our Flags Flying!

On September 11, 2001, the United States was attacked by militant Islamic extremists. American response was immediate and appropriate. In September 2002, noted British-American author and writer Andrew Sullivan published an article in Time entitled, “Never Forget – Why 9/11 still matters.” Sullivan wrote, “It wasn’t a random tragedy . . . It was a massacre – a cold-blooded, fanatical murder of civilians by men possessed by a theocratic ideology. It was an invasion . . .”  Sullivan went on to say, “A whole generation will grow up with this as their most formative experience (and) in decades’ time, we will look back and see what a difference it made.” Sullivan’s article was “right on point!”

Following 9/11, patriotic US citizens began displaying the nation’s flag in unprecedented numbers. Favored display spots for flags were on overpasses above interstate highways, including Interstate 78 that bisects New Jersey. Not long after the “ink was dry” on Sullivan’s 2002 remarks, some of the flags had deteriorated. St. Joseph Council 10627 in High Bridge decided to keep the I-78 flags flying over I-78. They enlisted the aid of a local Boy Scout troop to replace the flags as needed — two flags for every I-78 overpass west of I-287 in Hunterdon County and portions of Somerset County. In 2023, the flags remain flying in remembrance of 9/11.

More than two decades have passed since that invasion, and Americans are already being born who will have no formative connection to 9/11 – unless Americans keeps that memory alive. The Knights of Columbus still remember, and, we have a responsibility to remind others.

St. Joseph Council handled the I-78 flag project alone until 2014, when that council’s Past Grand Knight, Kevin Loughney, suggested to the Knights of Columbus Pope John Paul II Assembly 3293 that, as a Patriotic Degree assembly, they might like to coordinate the project. The Assembly agreed, and now, four councils participate: St. Catherine’s Council #15217 from exit 11 and east to Ruppert Rd., Immaculate Conception Council #6245 doing the State Route 31 exchange including the overpass at Cryan’s Inn, St. Joseph Council #10627 from Cryan’s Inn to Potterstown Rd.; and Our Lady of Lourdes Council from Potterstown Rd. to Interstate 287. Thirty-four flags flying over nearly 20 miles of I-78 overpasses in two counties! The project has been sustained and Knights continue to improve upon how the flags are mounted.

Early on, Knights realized the importance of securing the flags to the overpass fencing. According to Loughney, “It’s all in how the flags are mounted – keeping them tight against the chain link reduces stretching and tearing and helps them to shed water faster so they remain cleaner for longer periods.” Several years ago, the Knights began increasing the numbers of tie-downs and added horizontal cords as “shock absorbers” to reduce the strain on the tie downs. For 2023 current John Paul II Assembly Faithful Navigator, (and US Army veteran) Bill Smith, who now coordinates the flag program, added three vertical shock absorber straps which promise to protect the flags even better.

Smith reminds us about one of Mother Theresa’s statements, “Together we can do great things.” As for the flag project, we can do some things even better! And we do. The flags over I-78 are not the only ones still flying. Other patriotic Americans keep them flying along highways elsewhere. But our flags, looking good, is something Knights can be proud of. It isn’t a chore for the Knights, it’s our privilege.

-S.K. Greg Boyle