The Flag in the Bay
by John Delach
Port Washington, the town in which I live is located on the North Shore of Long Island, a peninsular formed by the last ice age, that juts northward into Long Island Sound. To the east of this land mass is Manhasset Bay and the Great Neck peninsular. To the west, Hempstead Harbor, and a large peninsular occupied by several towns including Glen Cove, Sea Cliff and Oyster Bay.
Manhasset Isle, once an island, is partially separated from the rest of Port Washington by an inlet from Manhasset Bay known as Sheets Creek. At its mouth is a tiny, odd, man-made island of rocks held together by rotting logs and faith. Its reason for its being cannot be discerned. A rectangle, the dimensions are approximately twenty-five feet long by five feet wide by ten feet high. The tidal range in Manhasset Bay averages about eight feet leaving just the top visible at most high tides. On top of the rectangle a conical tower about four feet tall stands above all high tides. Perhaps its purpose is alert boaters to this obstruction?
At low tide, this island can be reached on foot across a mud flat.
A non-descript oddity until, in the weeks following the attack on the World Trade Center on that horrific Tuesday in 2001, a standard three by five American Flag was planted into the conical cone. The first attempts to create a make-shift memorial were met with degrees of failure. Wind, tide and weather played havoc with these early tries tearing flags apart, shifting the poles forcing the flags into a pronounced list that eventually carrying them away at high tides. But the unknown memorial custodian returned to his altar over and over again to replace his lost or damaged charges. During the course of this period of education he learned the art of his craft and developed methods to securely mount his flags enabling them to better weather the rigors of the bay. Perhaps he also purchased flags of stouter material that stood nature’s test longer?
The stars and stripes flew true and unbending but even the best material can last only so long in that environment and whenever a flag suffered noticeable damage, it was replaced in short order.
One day, while I was driving north along Shore Road, a street adjacent to the creek, I saw a man walking across the mud flats toward the little island to retrieve a beaten up flag. The next day when I again passed this monument, a brand new version of Old Glory flew gracefully with the wind. I don’t remember if I smiled or suppressed a tear, but I do recall being proud and grateful.
For thirteen years the caretaker continued his self-imposed duty of tending to this sacred symbol. Was he a simple patriot, a friend or family of someone lost in the Towers, or just someone who wanted to show that he cares? I would be a fool to coop the reasons for his action. I just knew that what he was doing was the right thing and God bless him whatever his reasons were.
About two months ago I noticed that the latest version of the Stars and Stripes had developed a tear running across from the staff to the opposite border. Several days later, the wounded flag had been removed but not replaced.
I didn’t think how sad. I thought instead the unknown man who carried his burden for so long had completed his journey. I hope the end of his service came under the best of circumstances but no matter the reason, I know that he remained true to his task, he ran the good race and he kept the faith.
Well done stranger, well done!