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It's 9-11: Go ahead, be patriotic

I called the number in the phone book Monday, and the guy at the other end said, "Hello -- I know why you are calling."

I don't get a chance to tell Leonard Farrington why I called. At age 85, Farrington knows. Today is 9-11.

He is York County's 9-11 Sutton Road flag waver.

Or he was.

"Nine-eleven" forever means Sept. 11, 2001, and the terrorist attacks.

The day of the attacks, Farrington was already an old man of 79 and a Navy veteran who heard about Pearl Harbor in 1941 while in a movie theater. His response was to run from the theater and enlist.

He got home about five years later.

Farrington took a perfectly folded, new American flag two days after the attacks in 2001 and drove to the Sutton Road bridge over Interstate 77. For hours, he stood on that bridge and waved his flag.

"When one arm got tired, I just switched to the other arm," Farrington said.

Flashing headlights on that highway full of speeding trucks and cars below, horns honking, the goosebumps of patriotism without guardrails. He waved his flag the next year on 9-11 and the year after, too.

"People understood," Farrington said. "We were all together."

Finally, in 2004, Farrington waved his flag, and a state trooper sheepishly pulled up on that bridge.

"He was super nice and shook my hand and put his hand on my back and said, 'I know why you are doing it, and I appreciate it, agree with you. But it is a distraction to drivers on the highway.'"

Farrington, not in favor of calamity below him, stopped. "I folded up my flag and went home," he said.

And there we have what 9-11 has become.

How should we feel today? What should we do? Wave the flag or wave our fists in desperation over wars that seem to have no end?

Do we reflect on the heroism that was the people of Flight 93, who beat back the hijackers and flew that plane over Pennsylvania into the ground and their certain deaths so others might live? Do we thumb our collective noses at the bastards who would fly planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon by living our lives almost the same as before?

The day of the attacks, people were stunned and wept and then the Farringtons of the world sprang into action. Nobody would have ever stopped a flag-waver that day. Or in days that followed. Flags flew from countless cars, covered neighborhoods. Rico/Tag Express of Lancaster, a flag maker, was so swamped with orders workers produced Old Glory almost 24 hours a day for months.

The first anniversary was a big event. The second year and afterward, less. Flags on cars are now rare. A Rico/Tag Express supervisor said the company does not have a single order for American flags. Crossroads Lutheran Church in Fort Mill is having a service because so many new parishioners from New York asked for it, said pastor Jason Schafer.

I called another number and the lady who answered said, "We have to keep going, we can't think about it all the time."

Then Cynthia Butler said she hears a country song and her mind says, "James." Ribbons on a little tree at Richmond Drive Elementary School, James.

James was Kenneth James Butler, U.S. Marine, and he was Cynthia Butler's grandson. He died in Iraq in a war that came after 9-11. He was 19 years old.

Since Farrington first waved his flag, four men and one woman who lived in or grew up in York and Chester counties have died in Iraq.

Their names are Paul Neff II, Pat Leach, Kenneth James Butler, Logan Tinsley, and less than a month ago, Zandra Worthy-Walker.

Last week, there was an eighth-grade girls volleyball match between visiting Harold C. Johnson Middle School and Springfield Middle School. A lady pulled a cooler filled with drinks and ice through the parking lot. She carried bags of snacks.

But Melissa Ramsey was alone with the snacks. The cooler fell and spilled a little bit. She had to lift the cooler again herself, because her husband, Marion Ramsey, went to Iraq with his Fort Mill National Guard unit when his daughter, Molly, was in third grade. He came home, Molly was in the fourth grade.

He went to Afghanistan with that same unit a few months ago. Molly was in seventh grade.

Today, Molly in the eighth grade will play volleyball and her father will miss the game again.

Will anyone today wave a flag for Marion Ramsey, and his wife Melissa, and his daughter Molly, and hope that he and the soldiers he went to war with come home to watch those volleyball games on the next 9-11?

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