Island Community Joins Nation in Mourning; Citizens Reach Out with Generosity and Prayer
By MANDY LOCKE
In a time of terror and grief in America, Vineyarders join citizens across the nation in an outpouring of support for the most timeless of American symbols: 50 stars and 13 stripes.
American flags wave proudly from vehicle antennas, from minivans to tow trucks. From Main street to your street, American flags cover the community in red, white and blue. But instead of standing tall in Independence Day pride, the flags hover halfway up the poles, paying homage to thousands of Americans lost in last Tuesday's terrorist attacks and to a country navigating through uncharted territory.
Gathering in the Oak Grove Cemetery in Vineyard Haven to raise memorial flags is a familiar drill for Island veterans and friends of the American Legion Post 257. But erecting 330 flags along the cemetery's Avenue of Flags took on a new meaning for a group of 30 who arrived to work Sunday morning. No one wore smiles. They placed the poles in the ground, then lowered each one, uttering only words of instruction to one another.
Even the familiar sight of flags lining the cemetery didn't help veteran Ed Colligan shake the scenes of last Tuesday's explosions from his mind.
"I just can't get it out of my head," he said with a glance toward the ground.
So veterans, who served this nation through battles great and small, raised flags instead of armor on Sunday.
"But we have to get behind the country and present a unified face," Mr. Colligan said.
Nicky Fulin showed his nine-year-old son Cody how to lower the flag to half-mast. Mr. Fulin's 15-year-old son Lance already knew the drill.
"We were losing patriotism in this country. I hope this will help us get it back, especially when the young folks see such a display of support," Mr. Colligan said.
Nine-year-old Noelle and five-year-old Sophie Nelson twirled small American flags in the open space of the cemetery while their father Brian leaned closer to explain why the larger flags stood only half as tall as usual.
Mr. Nelson, who balanced eight-month-old son Sam on his shoulders, carefully chose his words.
When asked what the flag meant to her, Noelle smiled and said, "It's special." She then recited the Pledge of Allegiance flawlessly.
"Usually I just bring the older two girls to the cemetery, but today we prepared the whole family," Mr. Nelson said, pointing to his wife, Claudia, and 15-month-old son, Gabriel.
After most of the flag-raising crew dispersed, Buddy deBettencourt, Roy Maciel and Mr. Fulin surveyed the Avenue of Flags and tried to make sense of the week's events.
"How do you put this into words?" Mr. Fulin asked.
"This disaster happened in New York, just 300 miles away. That's practically our front yard," Mr. deBettencourt added.
The three volunteer firemen also marveled at rescue efforts in the cities, shaking their heads over the immensity of the search and recovery operation.
"This has torn a big hole in the hearts of America," Mr. deBettencourt said finally.
Circuit avenue in Oak Bluffs and Main street in Edgartown also became avenues of flags in recent days. Edgartown highway superintendent Larry Mercier hung dozens of flags along Main street, where they will remain at half-staff until Sept. 22, according to President Bush's proclamation.
Oak Bluffs returned Independence Day flags to Circuit avenue, adding to the spread of red, white and blue already decorating the town center. The huge flag covering the front of Jim's Package Store captures the attention of all who pass.
Circuit avenue shopkeepers paused with the rest of the nation Friday at noon, closing stores for at least 15 minutes to remember those who lost their lives Tuesday. James Cage of Rose Bud Balloons suggested the business observance, and Lori Welch of Basics Clothing Company rallied store owners to close their doors at noon.
"It's extremely important that we show signs of unity here on our streets," Ms. Welch said. "It was very poignant."
Ms. Welch turned the store's television to live coverage of the memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral Friday, while others simply tuned radios to national news coverage.
Later Friday evening, around 7 p.m., young and old gathered along Circuit avenue. Entire restaurant staffs, including servers at Park Corner Bistro, left customers for a few minutes to join the observation on the street. Carrying candles and singing God Bless America, the group crowded into the main street to join others across the nation evening candlelight vigil.
Flags appeared everywhere across the Island. But they were also scarce. Those who couldn't pull an American flag from the attic or garage competed with thousands of other Vineyarders who flooded to stores to buy them.
The A & P in Edgartown sold all but its plastic display flag. Trader Fred's in Edgartown dug out the last few dozen flags remaining in storage after Independence Day. Instead of raising the price for a precious commodity, the store accepted donations for the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. The flags disappeared in 45 minutes.
"I told Fred that in my heart I
couldn't make money off of these flags and he agreed," said employee Lori Little.
Susan Phillips of Phillips Hardware in Oak Bluffs sold out remaining Fourth of July stocks by Tuesday afternoon. Another shipment arrived Friday, but within 20 minutes she sold all of the 100 hand-held flags. By Saturday, the big flags disappeared. After pleading with 10 suppliers, Mrs. Phillips finally received a promise of more flags by mid-week.
From the first day of this national tragedy, Vineyarders searched for ways to show support. This weekend they turned their generosity to the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. In a spontaneous collection drive, volunteers positioned at Cronig's Market in Tisbury, the A&P in Edgartown through the weekend and at Tivoli Day in Oak Bluffs, raised $38,502.99.
According to Bruce Doten, director of development for the Island Red Cross, this outpouring tops any annual collection in the local chapter's history.
Mr. Doten estimated that about 60 per cent of those passing by the booths this weekend stopped and offered some sort of donation. Red Cross volunteers collected everything from pocket change to sizable checks. In return, they offered American flags, donated by the American Legion Post 186, and Susan Brown, of Daughters of the American Revolution.
While the Island chapter is amazed at the amount the community donated, Mr. Doten said he knows they can do more.
"Five thousand families lost the breadwinner or a key breadwinner in the tragedy. There will be much more we need to do," he said.
In the meantime, hospitals in New York city and Washington, D.C. say they have all the blood they need to help victims currently. The next American Red Cross blood drive is scheduled on the Island Oct. 30. If needs arise in the meantime, the Red Cross will shuttle volunteers to Dedham.
And as Americans wait for officials to release names of the missing and presumed dead, news of more Island connections to the attack on America trickled in over the weekend.
Vineyarders mourned the loss of longtime Camp Ground Meeting Association resident Nicholas Humber, one of the passengers killed when American Flight 11 crashed into the World Trade Center tower.
A week has passed since four hijacked planes destroyed all sense of normalcy in America. People around the world still ask questions that have no answers. The country's leaders struggle to wage war against a nationless people. Thousands of families still wait by their phones waiting for word of loved ones missing since the Tuesday attacks.
West Tisbury fireman David Tucker traveled to what remains of New York city's financial district to offer his help. While horrific images of rubble and smoke still clouds his mind, Mr. Tucker returned to the Island with an inspiring sense of American cohesion.
"A very different tear came to my eye, not from the dust, not from the smoke and certainly not from all of the brothers and sisters that have fallen. But from the unity of the people of this grand land of ours, to the like of which we have not seen since World War II," he said today in a letter to the Vineyard Gazette.
Hundreds of travelers tried to resume normal schedules as they began returning to recently opened airports. Once there, they faced new security measures, which will be be adopted on a permanent basis.
"For those of us who work in the airline industry, this terrorist action further underscores the need for increased vigilance in security measures," Michelle Haynes, communications director of Cape Air/Nantucket Airlines, said today in a letter to the Gazette. "We appreciate your patience and understanding as we continue our mission, get you to your destination in the safest, most convenient way possible."
In a search for meaning and comfort, Islanders continue to flock to vigils and worship services across the Vineyard. Religious leaders searched for words of comfort and hope.
The Peace Council plans a vigil from 5 to 6 p.m. this evening at Five Corners in Vineyard Haven. Chris Fried, Rev. Alden Besse and Rev. Judy Campbell will offer words of guidance and perspective. Those in attendance will also be invited to sign a petition to President Bush to seek "just, compassionate and nonviolent" resolve.
The Peace Council will also hold a public meeting Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Grace Episcopal Church in Vineyard Haven.