Friday, August 26, 2011


In the early morning hours of September 12, 2001, Ground Zero looked like a war zone. The towers were gone, the surrounding buildings burnt out and destroyed, and smoke and ash were everywhere. Fires lit the darkness in recesses where debris and rubble had ignited.

Stunned by the death and devastation on this battlefield, turned hallowed ground, an NYPD sergeant and detective stood there, scanning the site. Suddenly, something caught their eye: an American flag.

It was wrapped around a contorted street light, not far from the plaza of the World Trade Center where it had flown proudly the day before. Tattered and torn, this American flag had survived the worst terror attack in world history.

As the sergeant stared at the flag, he realized it was upside down...the international signal for distress. His blood boiled at the thought. Our city and country had been hit and hit hard, but we were not in distress. Our country had been hurt and hurt bad, but we would survive.

With the help of firemen and military personnel nearby, they retrieved the flag. Carefully, as they had been taught, the soldiers folded it, and handed it to my men. Then standing in silence, they saluted that flag.

I knew nothing of this until hours later that morning when I walked into my office. I was hit by a strong smell of smoke. When I looked around to see why, I noticed a folded flag sitting on the corner of my desk. There was a note with it that read:

“Boss... this is the flag that flew in front of the WTC at Church Street. It was blown off the pole and was tangled on the street light. We as well as some firefighters and soldiers recovered it. The soldiers folded it. In Israel, you said that we can't back down to terrorism. You are right. You lead, and we will follow."

I was overcome by their words, but more so at the sight of the flag sitting there. Less than 24 hours ago, this incredible symbol of freedom and democracy had flown proudly in front of two of the largest buildings in the world. On a clear, blue sky morning, those buildings and thousands working inside them were attacked and destroyed by an enemy who despised the very freedoms that flag represented.

I thought of its history, and the men and women who had fought for, and died, defending it. I thought of the first responders who gave their lives the day before while serving the people of New York City.

Now sitting silent and still on my desk, that flag's symbolism seemed more powerful and mighty than ever. It inspired the men who retrieved it, me, and every person who walked into my office. Some people kissed it. Some touched it. Others simply stared at it or nodded in respect.

This symbol of our country's birth and resilience, once again, as in past battles, inspired, moved and strengthened our resolve. It brought our political leaders together and created unity in our country. All across America, flags heralded this truth: Good will prevail over evil.

Today, in these truly trying times, I think back to those moments and that flag.

In recent days, we have suffered a tremendous loss of 30 of this nation's greatest warriors, and we have witnessed historic economic setbacks and political polarization. Gloom and doom permeates our headlines and airwaves. This is not a time to provoke fear or lose confidence in our nation's resilience and spirit. This is not a time for pessimism, or throwing in the towel, or writing us off as a second rate nation.

This is not the time to give in or give up!!!

This is a time for unity, optimism, and national support for our country and that flag. It is a time for a call to action...just as in the aftermath of the attacks on our country. It is a time we must stand together, as one nation, under God and indivisible. Most important, it is a time to reflect and learn from that flag…learn from the men and women who died, fighting for and defending it, and from the strength of the families they left behind. May we learn from the flag that was ripped from its stand, but whose spirit and symbolism could not be destroyed.

In these trying times and when we need it most, stand up and honor that flag with the strength, unity, courage and conviction that it has symbolized for us for more than 230 years. We owe it to our children, and their children, as well. Most important, we owe it to that flag and the country it represents.

God Bless the USA.

Bernard B. Kerik