September 11, 2001. A beautiful morning; not unlike the one that greeted me today as I left for work. It soon became the morning when many of us were glued to TV sets, online streaming news, and radio broadcasts while we watched and / or listened to frightening and shocking events. I remember that day well: Wondering if my Mom or any of her friends had been injured in Washington, D.C. The silent scream that rose from the pit of my gut as I watched the towers fall. The utter confusion after seeing the Pennsylvania crash site. An over-crowded tarmac at the airport near my office, and the eerie silence that settled around us after the planes all left the skies. The images of the missing, the 24-hour news cycle, and the pleas of the families overwhelmed the senses. It was difficult to process the magnitude of it all.
So yes, on this day, like many others… I remember. But that’s not what inspired me today. No, today I was inspired by a surprising sight while driving to work; one that literally moved me to both a few tears and an epiphany. I didn’t know the full story at the time, but I did know that I was witnessing something very special indeed.
On my daily route there are four highway overpasses. Normally, I just pass right under them without a thought to their existence, let alone how many of them there are. But this morning, there was something different:
An elderly woman was there, waving an American flag as the cars zipped below. Beside her was a man in a riding vest bedecked with patches and ribbons; he stood motionless, also clutching a flag in his left hand while saluting with his right. As I passed through the other side, I looked in my rear-view mirror and noticed that there were two more people up there, facing the opposite flow of traffic. They had American flags, too.
Three more overpasses, and three more groups of people with American flags. I waved to them as I passed; some of them waved back. A few of my fellow drivers flashed headlights, others honked horns. Looking around at the other commuters, I saw that virtually all of us were smiling to some degree or another.
As we crossed the state line, it became evident that the neighboring state had no such greeting planned. My mind began to ponder what I had just witnessed. I had been deeply moved; to tears, in fact. There are other patriotic holidays; why was this one so special that they had chosen it for this ritual?
My answer came later on when I had a few moments to scour the local news. See, there was a man, a Navy veteran, who was so adamant that we would not bow to the fear of terrorist threat that he took to standing on an overpass near his home every year on the anniversary of 9/11, proudly waving an American flag. As I read the story, I realized that I had indeed seen this man a couple of years ago. Sadly, he passed away before this year’s observance. The news story went on to explain that members of the Rolling Thunder veterans advocacy group had joined his widow as she took her departed husband’s place on the bridge today. Beside her, a Vietnam combat veteran stood proudly at salute for over one hour in tribute.
This is what I witnessed this morning. Now that I know the rest of the story, there is no doubt: it was one of the most inspirational things I’ve ever seen. It’s changed my thoughts and feelings of this day, as well. In years to come, when I think of 9/11, I will think of one man and his flag, the people who now carry on his act of patriotism, and the experience of witnessing it first-hand. A beautiful morning, indeed.
For more about the man with the flag, and the event that inspired this post, check out these articles:
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