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May 25, 2013

The Power of Symbols

A humbling essay about the American spirit:


The first thing Kevin Gibson did after returning to his house, torn apart by a powerful tornado Monday, was pull an American flag and a temporary flagpole from the corner of his partially standing garage.

Neighbors forlornly picking through the rubbish of their lives stopped to watch Gibson’s nephew, Sean Pontius, stick the pole into the ground and hoist the Stars and Stripes.

The flag-raising seemed to hearten the neighbors, as if assuring them that they would emerge triumphant from this disaster.

With the remnants of their lives lying around them, Gibson recalled, the neighbors began applauding and chanting: “Yes, sir! Raise that flag!”

“It means we are still united, whatever happens,” he said, the flag flapping in the wind as his family helped him pore through the wreckage for salvageable possessions.

In many ravaged neighborhoods in this Oklahoma City suburb, where Monday’s tornado was its fiercest, American flags have been popping up amid the ruins. They are hung from skeletal trees denuded of leaves and bark, stuck in the doors of cars turned upside down and draped over pieces of twisted metal embedded in the ground.

The shot of red, white and blue flying in a landscape of ashen brown is startling and powerfully defiant, seeming to embody the mettle of the national anthem. Pontius said the flag in front of his uncle’s house reminds him of photos he has seen of the flag over the collapsed World Trade Center, or U.S. troops raising the flag on Iwo Jima.

“It represents our spirit as Oklahomans and Americans,” said Chris DeWitt, pointing to a flag a neighbor had planted on a basketball frame. “We’re here, we’re proud and we’ll be back.”

...Someone planted 13 small American flags before the splintered house of Jerry Woods and near the one remaining brick wall, where a neighbor wrote in black paint, “Thank You Jerry U Saved My Family’s Lives.” Woods, a disabled Vietnam veteran, sheltered 22 people and three dogs in his small underground storm shelter designed for 12 people. His Veterans of Foreign Wars post, 8706, is sending him $500 to get back on his feet, but he plans to endorse the check over to another neighbor, who wasn’t insured for anything but a car.

“It’s what we do as Americans,” he said as friends and relatives carted away debris. “The American flags here are what we do. It’s times like this when people pull together.”

The qualities that made this nation great may have fallen into disrepute in Washington, but they are strong where it counts: in the hearts of ordinary men and women who, faced with disaster, look first to what they can do to help others.

Posted by Cassandra at May 25, 2013 08:51 AM

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"Oh say? Does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave?"

The comments at the WaPo article were really precious. I especially liked some where the implication was that these Neanderthal Oklahomans kinda had it coming. And on and on.

Because they made the schools in California "earthquake proof at great expenses, so we loves our kids better".

Buddy, you ain't "earthquake proofed" nuthin'. You might have increased survivability up to a point (and good for you), but a big enough quake will shatter all that.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at May 27, 2013 10:09 PM

I have a friend from my time living in Arkansas who was assigned there on Army recruiter duty (which he hated, but that's a separate story). His now-adult daughter's home was 900 feet from Plaza Towers Elementary. Operative word here being "was". He posted a picture of the pile of debris on his facebook page. He and his wife drove from their home in the Pacific Northwest to Moore to help her recover what they could from what is left of the house and to take steps towards getting her set up with a new place to live. He and his wife immediately had offers of help: money, gift cards and clothes for the daughter and grandson. Thankfully, his family is okay. It is good to see people lend a helping hand. That is "community", whether it is the "community" in which you physically live or the "community" of friends and family one collects over the years...

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at May 28, 2013 02:25 PM

Howdy Don,
You're quite correct about earthquakes. Grew up in Seattle, and an early memory was the quake of '62.
The 64 Quake in Alaska was enormously powerful; it raised some former harbor area land by 6+ ft, and ensuing tsunami's wiped out everything in the long narrow bays (like Seward). A big enough quake near surface, around 9 on Richter scale, and not much is left over near epicenter.

Also heard Mt St Helens erupt in '80, from Whidbey Island. Get caught too close to a major eruption, and it's all over. Helens was tiny compared to Krakatoa.

People forget the awesome power of nature, as we are fortunate to live in a corner of the world where the big bad events are relatively rare (cross your fingers that Wyoming volcano doesn't go off), yet most areas of the country are susceptible to some sort of natural disaster (quake, flood, terrible storm, hurricane, tornado, severe cold, flooding, draught, tsunami or the grand scale volcanos, *large* meteor strikes like the Yucatan that caused last major mass extinction, ice ages, and epic floods (filling of Black Sea from Med, Columbia River flood of vast inland sea out to Pacific when ice dam from last ice age broke up.

Best Regards,

Posted by: CAPT Mike at May 29, 2013 12:48 AM

Speaking of meteor strikes.....our lovely Luna saved us from one such planet killer just a week or so ago. It was a rather large meteor - Volkswagen bug - that left a seven (I think) mile crater on the dark side of the moon.
I wonder what part of the hotcoldwetdry religion caused the moon to be in that exact position at that exact time? Or could is just be that we mere mortals are simply that?

Posted by: DL Sly at May 29, 2013 12:43 PM