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Editorial Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 30, 2005

Forever in peace may it wave

It’s a grand old flag,
It’s a high-flying flag,
And forever in peace may it wave.
It’s the emblem of
The land I love —
The home of the free and the brave...

— George M. Cohan

The church across the street from our newspaper office plays chimes every day. Lately, the songs have been patriotic. I find it hard to concentrate on writing or editing or interviewing during these brief intervals. Why do I resist the songs; why not just relax and enjoy the musical interlude"

I remember as a child loving to sing patriotic songs. The words are still part of my consciousness. I hear them as the chimes play. They intrude on my current thoughts.

I was reminded of my childhood self recently when I covered an event at Pine Bush Elementary School, on Flag Day, where the children were all decked out in red, white, and blue. They looked pleased with themselves and proud. I used to love to dress that way, too.

For my eighth birthday, what I wanted more than anything else in the world was an American flag. My family gave me one and we flew it proudly on holidays.

Lately though — perhaps since our country invaded Iraq, or maybe it started with the terrorists’ attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 — I’ve felt like flying the flag would be seen as putting myself in a particular camp, on a particular side. I don’t see many pacifists waving flags.

I’ve decided I’ve been wrong.

With the Fourth of July approaching I read again, as I often do this time of year, The Declaration of Independence, the document written in the midst of our fledgling nation’s rebellion against Britain, the declaration that marks our nation’s birth.

Some of the words are familiar to us all: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. —

"That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...."

In a democracy, the governed, each one of us, has not just the right but I believe the duty to make our views known. That’s partly why I like being the editor of a newspaper in which members of the community can be informed and express their views in a public forum.

Being a patriot in a democracy does not mean marching in lockstep behind a leader but, rather, probing and questioning before giving consent.

Recently, Cindy Pollard, who runs the Home Front Café in Altamont, gave me a sheaf of letters from appreciative Guilderland High School sophomores who had come to her café to listen to old soldiers tell stories of World War II.

"I’m glad that the Home Front Café is close by because it is a museum that has a lot of offer," wrote one of the girls who visited. "I can sit down and enjoy a meal while taking a little history lesson. It gives many a chance to learn about war firsthand...."

Another sophomore, a boy, wrote to the veterans, "I think it is amazing what these men and women went through. All I could think about during the presentation was the difference in patriotism between then and now. Then people were proud to help their country and represent it in times of war; now people are ashamed of their country. One question that goes through my mind while listening to this presentation is, are any of you mad at the United States for sending you to war""

Another boy wrote, "I believe it’s always good to get the message to young men and women like ourselves that war is not to be glorified, is not dramatic adventure, and it takes unnecessary lives. However, I deeply respect the men and women who sacrificed their lives, bodies, and minds for the well being of our country.

"I left the Home Front Café thinking that in a few years the draft may be reinstated and I may be called upon to fight for my country. I will do so if that is what my country wishes of me, but I have no illusions of grandeur or adventure with the thought of future wars.

"I knew that my own father, who fought in the Vietnam War, was changed drastically by his experiences there. He was wounded several times and received many decorations for bravery as a right gunner in a Chinook helicopter. His medals include two Purple Hearts and a distinguished Flying Cross. He now suffers from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which cost him many hours of happiness and both his marriages....

"Being drafted would change my life completely, and I wonder if I would ever be able to continue pursuing my dreams of a musical career afterwards. I can only wait and try to learn from history and the stories of war-hardened men and women like yourselves to prepare myself for those looming days."

Another student wrote about the American flag that is prominently displayed on the café wall. The Orsini flag, painstakingly restored, has recently received much notice as a wire-service Memorial Day story described its history.

I first saw the Orsini flag while covering a Loyalty Day ceremony in Altamont in May of 2001, hosted by the Boyd Hilton Veterans of Foreign Wars Post. The flag was so blackened with age, it was barely recognizable, yet it was revered.

"A story was told on Loyalty Day that many in the village had heard before," I wrote in 2001. "It is a story of perseverance, of strength, of homecoming — and of loyalty to flag and country.

"It is a story of one of Altamont’s own — Millard Orsini. And on Saturday, the people who had gathered at Village Hall to celebrate Loyalty Day saw tangible proof of the long-told tale.

"Millard Orsini was one of seven brothers who fought in World War II. He served in the Pacific Theater.

"‘When Bataan fell in 1942, Millard was captured,’ Antonio Ferraioli, master of ceremonies for the celebration told the crowd. ‘It was the start of the infamous Death March.’

"Millard Orsini marched with the others for six days in the unmerciful 90-degree heat, said Ferraioli; they had only the water in their canteens to drink. Any who dropped behind, or stopped to help another were executed, he said.

"Millard Orsini survived the march; he spent 40 months as a prisoner of war. ‘Millard created a U.S. flag on the back side of a lampshade,’ said Ferraioli. He used dye from clothes to create the red, white, and blue colors.

"‘It helped him get through the tough days and focus on home,’ said Ferraioli. He hid the flag from his captors but kept it with him throughout his ordeal.

"He was discharged in February, 1946 and received, among other honors, the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. He served ‘in every position’ of the Boyd Hilton VFW Post, said Ferraioli. He called Orsini ‘the soft-spoken hero of our own Altamont.’"
Ferraioli then presented the faded and brittle flag to Orsini’s widow, Kay Orsini. He announced it was the first time in 58 years the flag had been seen.

"You are a part of history," Ferraioli told the crowd. "There it is; witness that....You heard about the story; that’s the real thing...When he was liberated, he waved that flag...Fly your flag. If you can’t fly your flag for yourself, do it for...Millard Orsini. Hell, he’d fly it for you."

The sophomore who recently visited the Home Front Café wrote, "Seeing the American flag...made by an American P.O.W. gave me a great feeling of pride. That flag was what kept the man alive. To us, the flag is a symbol of freedom and prosperity, but to them I am sure that the American flag means something much more special."
The flag belongs to all Americans. Those who support the current war, and those who don’t. While it’s a national symbol, allegiance to it is personal.

My husband and I have recently acquired an American flag. We plan to fly it this Fourth of July.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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