I remember the flags, the flags flying at half-staff in almost every yard in Wenham, flags carefully hung up on the sides of houses or draped sorrowfully over white-railed porches. Flags flew from the backs of pickups, and children stuck them in their backpacks and taped them to the mailboxes. When the hardware stores and shopping malls sold out of their summer supply of flags, people made their own.
It was almost a compulsion, this need to fly a flag in the days that followed 9/11. We needed to identify with the victims and their families, to stand with this violated country, our country, and to proclaim with vehemence, “We are, all of us, Americans.”
An attack on any one of us is an attack on us all. We crouched in our living rooms, huddled around our TVs, watching the horror of innocence lost, and wondered how such an evil could come into our own harbor. How dare they step onto this soil where so much blood was shed in the name of freedom. How dare they try to control us with fear.
We flew our flags in defiance to tyranny and we proclaimed, “We are, all of us, Americans, and we will never again bow to fear.”
Nearly a year after 9/11, I stood in the sweltering heat and looked down at the gaping wound where two buildings once stood. The streets had been cleared of debris but plywood boards still covered the broken out windows of the buildings surrounding the Twin Towers. It was still so fresh, still so agonizing, even though so many months had passed. Up above me, the neighboring buildings stood like empty sentinels, marked with shrapnel from the shattered buildings. They would never be the same.
But someone had draped those ragged walls with flags, and as we came from all across the country to look at what our minds could not comprehend, we stood under those flags and felt a certain sense of solidarity. We are, all of us, Americans.
Today, Ground Zero is a memorial, and 9/11 is a day of remembrance. Flags are flying on my street, and I am telling my children. Each one of us has a story of where we were on that day. Each of us has a memory that will stay with us forever.
We are, all of us, Americans, and we will never forget.