Originally published in The Times Herald-Record on Sunday, November 11, 2001

   Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, no American symbol has proved as unflappable and inspiring as the Stars and Stripes.
   The image of firefighters flying the American flag over the World Trade Center rubble has become a metaphor for a country rallying through grief and rising above destruction.
   They trail from car antennas and wave outside of bodegas. It seems everyone wants an American flag.
 "Our flag has become a source of great comfort and solace," said Al Cavalare Jr., who runs The Flag Guys, a New Windsor shop that has seen a jolt in business unprecedented in its 24-year history. For a week after the attacks, hundreds waited in line outside of Cavalare's shop.
   It has become a symbol of unity. The flag says that we are all Americans, no matter our ethnicity. The red-white-and-blue has suddenly gained prominence along lower Broadway in Newburgh, where Honduran, Puerto-Rican and Mexican flags once dominated.
 "We've got to stop hyphenating our names Irish-American, African-American," said Sheldon Heil, as he waited outside of The Flag Guys on Sept. 12. Heil said the rallying spirit of the day had crossed all ethnic lines. "We're all Americans," he said.
   And a new generation has discovered the almost spiritual power that our flag provides. Cavalare's favorite story involves a young woman who arrived at his shop at closing time. She had all the earmarks of youth, including a lip piercing. She had come for her first flag.
   Cavalare was used to dealing with "West Pointers, marines . veterans and politicians," so he asked the girl why she had come.
   She said, "this all has just made me realize how much I love my country."

Jason Doce

© 2001 Orange County Publications, a division of Ottaway Newspapers Inc., all rights reserved.