Friday.. January 11, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 122

Cliff McKenzie


            Betsy Ross and Chesty Puller would be proud of Brutus--The Tenacious Flag-- struggling for his right to fly with pride and dignity.
            I met Brutus on 15th Street between 7th and 8th Avenue in New York City yesterday.  My first thoughts were how proud Betsy Ross, the maker of the first flag, and Chesty Puller, the “bulldog” Marine Corps General upon whom legends of heroism and courage are heaped, would have been watching Brutus claim his right to fly against cruel and indifferent odds designed to thwart his freedom of expression.  
            Flags have personalities.  After spending hundreds of hours studying, examining and photographing thousands of photos of flags flying in New York City—symbols of the aftermath of September 11th—I have found each one is as individualistic as a fingerprint.  Each has his or her story, genetic composition, élan vital to those who study it, those who fly it, and even to those who don’t bother to even notice it.
            Sometimes a flag stops me in my tracks.  I am a flag hunter.  I stalk the streets of New York City with my digital camera holstered on my belt.  I can slide my fingers down to the zipper on the waterproof bag that houses it, slip it into my palm, flick off the lens cover with my index finger as I’m extracting it, and in a smooth motion based on great practice and eagerness to capture a stitch in time, slide my thumb on the power button so that as I pull the camera to my face and frame the shot, I’m ready to shoot, ready to emboss the history of the moment digitally into my camera’s memory.
            I learned that unctuous movement in Vietnam.  My hand was always at the ready of my .45, poised for that moment when the enemy might fire upon us and trigger my reflexes to draw and shoot and lay down heavy firepower against those trying to eliminate me.  
            Brutus leaped into my sights with same excitement as an enemy trying to ambush me thirty years ago.  However, time changes a man’s purpose in life.  Unlike the days when I was a “trained killer,” I now seek to capture Liberty, Purpose, human majesty, and the Power of Freedom in my camera sights.   I prefer these days to extol the virtues of Liberty with words and pictures rather than by measuring America’s might by body count.
            That’s why I’m a “flag hunter.”  I believe if any American stands under a flapping flag and watches it beauty singing in the wind, the history of this nation’s pursuit for Liberty will rain upon them with much more force than any history course, or movie, or political speech.   The power of America lies in studying the symbols of our Freedoms.  It radiates into ones marrow, as does the beauty of a rose carefully examined, or the study of a humming bird feeding, or a mountain lion leaping thirty-five feet across a ravine to return to its litter and protect them from the potential harms lurking outside the entrance to its den. 
         Brutus represented to me the tenacity of our nation to struggle through its great challenges, and, even though torn and battered by its critics, to fly with dignity and resolve in the final analysis—a symbol to the world that America is willing to go to any lengths to preserve and protect its legacy of Freedom.
           Also, Brutus represented to me the decay of patriotism, and the settling in of complacency as the war on Terrorism drags on, pouring billions of dollars into bombs and bullets targeting an ancient, unproductive land of deserts and mountains, and people who scrabble to stay alive while we worry about our credit card limits, and whether there are enough X-Box’s to fill the demands of our children, or whether we should have Chinese, pizza or just good old steak for dinner.
            Brutus smacked me in the face with countless feelings, emotions, and desires to see him overcome his difficulties—to win the battle between his “constraints” and his “freedoms.”

            I stood under Brutus for nearly an hour, shooting him from various angles, rooting him on when it seemed he would be snarled perpetually in the sharp punji-staked tips of the naked tree branches fighting to capture him, to make him a prisoner in their spindly clutches.
           I could see he was worn by battle.   His color was fading.   The threads of his weave were being exhausted as the wind billowed his guts, straining to release the prow of the flag from the branches that manacled him from flying straight and free.   And, when he did momentarily break free by fierce gusts of wind, he flaunted his freedom so doggedly that his leading edge would become ensnarled again in the nest of branch tips waiting like booby traps for his red, white and blue to walk into.
          When Brutus broke lose, time after time, I wanted to cheer.  It was like watching a great football game where your favored team got one more point, only to be pushed back by the opposing team, and then fighting back again to equal the score.    It was constant touch and go—“would Brutus fly or, would Brutus be trapped in the clutches of those who wanted him to go away?”
          As you look at the pictures of Brutus, think about finding a flapping flag and standing under it and watching it.   See if you can feel the power and might of America’s history glowing from the energy the flag creates as the wind whips and furls it.   Think about those who died on September 11 as being part of the weave of the flag you are watching.   Imagine they are embodied in the energy that comprises the red, white and blue.
         If you find you feel something unique, perhaps stirring, think about bringing your child, or grandchildren, or a loved one to share the experience.  Tell them what you see and feel about the flag, and what it represents to you.    See if you believe that it stands for Semper Vigilantes—Always Vigilant—and that the ferocity of its ability to withstand the pressures forced upon it, ultimately evolves into the preservation of Liberty, and the Freedom that we often take for granted, but can never afford to.
         While viewing the flag, see if you can see Courage in the white of the stripes, Conviction in the red representing those who died to preserve its value, and Action in the blue signaling our quest for prosperity not only for ourselves, but for the world.   As you look deep into the flag to find its courage, conviction and action, think about Terrorism's flag, and how it is engined by the winds of Fear, Intimidation and Complacency.  
          Even if you're not a flag lover, I think you'll feel something extraordinary when you compare our flag to that of Terrorism's.  And, if you bring a child along and watch it together, you might also feel an added measure of pride and vigilance.


                    (Note--To View The Photo Picture Story that accompanies this article, Go To January 12 Diary--click here)

Go to For Jan. 10--Teenage Terrorist Virus--Let Me Be Somebody Special

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