- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 9, 2001

Throngs of veterans are expected to attend a town meeting in Amherst, Mass., tomorrow evening to protest town officials' removal of 30 U.S. flags that veterans hung in August in the college community, known for its liberal bent.
"Massachusetts requires us to put a flag on each veteran's grave on Memorial Day. Is the way to get a flag displayed in this town to die?" asked Rod Raubeson, a Marine veteran who serves as director of veteran services for the Amherst town government and is an official of both a local Veterans of Foreign Wars and an American Legion post in the hamlet of about 35,000.
But Eva Schiffer, one of five members of Amherst's Select Board — its governing body, which will decide the fate of the flags tomorrow night — countered: "It's not a question of whether or not to display flags in Amherst. We already do that. We have flags flying in this town every day of the year."
What needs to be decided, Ms. Schiffer said, is whether the flags — purchased with $1,000 in tax money — should be mounted as a commemorative display on only special holidays or, as Mr. Raubeson and the veterans' groups want, left up for "four or five months of the year."
Under the latter option, Mr. Raubeson said, the flags would fly "from Patriots Day in April through Memorial Day" at the end of May. They would go up again on Flag Day in mid-June and remain on display through the Fourth of July. Their final showing would begin Sept. 1 and continue through Veterans Day in November.
Carl W. Seppala Jr., chairman of the Select Board, said the flags initially went up Aug. 11 on light poles along a downtown thoroughfare with the approval of the town manager but without the required consent of the Select Board. He said it was the understanding of Barry Del Castihl, the town manager, that the flags would come down after Labor Day. When they didn't, Mr. Del Castihl had town employees remove them, pending action next week by the Select Board.
"The flags are very attractive, giving a Norman Rockwell display to our town. This wasn't intended to become an issue, but it's turned into an emotional topic," Mr. Seppala said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Ms. Schiffer said: "Seldom have we had so much input on any issue. Some want the flags up forever. Some say they should be up just a few days of the year, but no one has said, 'Don't fly the American flag.'"
The flag controversy has sparked considerable debate in Amherst, home to the University of Massachusetts' main campus. Amherst officials acknowledge that people have said plenty about the flags.
One Vietnam veteran, who did not give his name, said in an e-mail message to the Amherst Forum, an Internet message board: "After all, Amherst, it is not the flag that we fought for. It is the freedom that it represents. That freedom has just been taken away from you when the town politicians had the flags removed without due process, a town meeting."
A woman named Patience wrote: "I'm not sure how flying the flag one-third of the year is seen to cheapen and/or weaken its meaning as the recent letters in the newspaper have voiced.
"Perhaps, frequent display serves as a reminder to people of the freedoms we have that many have died for and many work to ensure apply to all."
Patience further wrote she suspects some in Amherst are "uncomfortable by the multi-display of the flags" because "they see it as a symbol of a patriotic all-American town [and] may be concerned that others of their own ilk will assume Amherst residents are 'rah-rah' Americans."
Noting that some Amherst residents have described the veterans' flag push as "militaristic" or "jingoistic," a person who shared Patience's views said Amherst offers flag critics "a place to nurture their own bizarre paranoid PC world views."
"Amherst is considered a refuge from reality, and any effort to introduce common sense will only ruffle a lot of feathers," the writer added.
Mr. Raubeson said he hopes a strong presence of veterans at the meeting tomorrow night will persuade the Select Board to rehang the 30 flags and keep them up through Nov. 11. "I think this community will get it straight and do the right thing," he said.


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