As I was walking into town on Sept. 11, 2001, I spotted an American flag in the bottom of an old garbage can. As I stared in disbelief at my country’s flag, face down in its metal coffin, I couldn’t help but wonder why anyone would throw the symbol of America away.

Seeing the Stars and Stripes lying unpeacefully in this garbage can reminded me of a saying I once heard: When somebody or something dies an unpeaceful death, their spirit roams the earth until it’s finally put to rest. I wasn’t going to let this flag that I had fought for and almost laid down my life for, die alone, forsaken in a trash can. I reached in and gently picked up my country’s flag. I tenderly draped it over my left arm like a waiter in a high-class restaurant.

A slight breeze started blowing and suddenly, to my amazement, the flag started stirring on my arm. Old Glory, despite the beating it had taken — it was torn, dirty, wrinkled and tattered — it was still alive! It even reminded me of the way I’d looked after I got back from Vietnam, where I was a point man in the 59th Infantry (Scout Dog) Platoon.

I rushed my country’s flag to the cleaners to have the stains and wrinkles removed, then hurried to the tailor to have the tears and tatters stitched. When I arrived at the tailor’s the day after, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There was my country’s flag, tall and proud on a special stand. I snapped to attention and threw it a salute that even our country’s greatest generals would have been proud to receive.

My country’s flag reciprocated by waving back at me. My first inclination was to take this magnificent looking American beauty back home and put it on a flagpole in my front yard.

So I did.

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Five years after the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, I wrote this poem:

It seems like yesterday

It seems like yesterday when I began to pray

For all those brave souls

Who lost their lives on 9/11

They were heroes

All of them

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From janitors to CEOs

They were All-Americans, dressed in different clothes

They helped keep America on its feet

Marching to the drums of a different beat

They had hopes and dreams

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Like all of us, they were full of life and energy

Who would’ve thought their lives would end so tragically

My heart goes out to each and every one of them

Each morning when I rise,

I raise my country’s majestic flag toward the skies

And each night when I go to bed

I can’t help but think of all the Twin Towers and Pentagon dead.

If I had one wish left in this world

It would be to help ease the pain and suffering

Of all those who have lost someone near and dear

In this tragic series of events.

Richard Sawyer

Sag Harbor