Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Friday, July 06, 2012

Keep the GWB American Flag Flying

This story from the New Brunswick Patch tells the whole story of why it’s so important to keep the George Washington Bridge’s American Flag flying, from dawn till dusk, on the eight holidays that it’s flown.  Recently, the flag has only flown during the day for as long as that particular bridge operation crew’s shift lasts.  This year, on July 4th, the flag was taken down at   2 p.m., in order to avoid overtime costs.

Steve Napolitano, who was the General Manager of the George Washington Bridge and Bus Station on Sept. 11, 2001, remembers standing on the sidewalk the day after the terror attacks, staring at the American flag workers had just unfurled on the bridge "while car horns beeped as they drove beneath it."

“It was really important that we do that; that we hang that flag," Napolitano said. "Not only for us to remember, but for all Americans to see.”

Maintenance employees looking for meaningful ways to help had located the original 60 foot by 90 foot [450 pound] American flag that hung on the bridge for seven years until it was retired in 1988 in a storage room on the New Jersey side.  Everyone, including Napolitano, worked around the clock on their hands and knees on the floor of the maintenance garage painstakingly sewing and painting the flag to restore it to its former glory and unfurl it at Ground Zero. It was their way of showing solidarity with their fallen comrades and displaced colleagues. The flag was unfurled on September 24, 2001.

The focus of operations for the George Washington Bridge had always been mobility and keeping the flow of traffic moving. Although security at the bridge and Port Authority buildings was always a primary concern, in the post-9/11 world, security was the number one priority.

Ten years later, Napolitano has moved from overseeing bridge operations and is now in charge of the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 42nd Street.

“Ten years later I worry about the future of the world for my kids," he said. "They’re the ones who have to live with the real impact of 9/11. Up until 9/11 we lived our lives in total freedom. Our children will never know that luxury.”

As Napolitano pondered that thought he turned his chair towards the window overlooking 9th Avenue.

"Look at that sky," he mused. "Not a cloud in it. It’s a 9/11 sky."

The Port Authority Administration Building Plaza South is named in honor of PA Police Officer Bruce Reynolds who was assigned to duty on the George Washington Bridge on 9/11, but rushed down to the World Trade Center to assist in the rescue efforts and perished.  If for no other reason, the flag should be flown for the full day in his honor.  It would be nice, too, in consideration of these hard economic times if their fellow officers “sacrificed” their overtime pay in honor of their fallen comrade.  Fat chance of that, though.

The Port Authority knows bridge security needed top priority ever since the Landmarks Terrorist Plot in 1993.  At the time, it was felt that the bridge was too insurmountable an object for a terrorist attack, even though terrorists managed to blow up every bridge in Afghanistan in that same time period and later, during the war in Iraq.

That the flag – the largest free-flying American flag in the world flying over the busiest bridge in the world – is still flying is a testament to the sacrifice of our soldiers, the vigilance of our law enforcement and citizens, and the determination of the American people to live in freedom.

The George Washington Bridge flag deserves its full day in the sun, and should no more be held hostage to union greenmail than to Muslim terrorists.

Long may the George Washington Bridge stand and the Star Spangled Banner wave over the motorists and pedestrians passing under her protection.


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