A black mark on the entire college community

By Nick Milano

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If you have visited the center of Amherst in the last couple of weeks, you might have noticed a large cardboard sign outside the front of the American Legion on Amity Street. It reads, “Thank you for stealing our flags, from the veterans at American Legion Post 148.”

Just four days before the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, someone stole two flags off the Legion’s flagpole. Three Busch Light cans were found on the ground near the flags, pretty much ample evidence that some students must be guilty of pulling the prank. Like stealing an American flag and a POW-MIA flag is ever a joke.

The manager of the post, a Navy vet, said that he was surprised to come to work and find the flags missing from the pole. This has not been the first time; he said that the same thing happened about eight years ago. This time the post is getting a brand new pole and flags.

There are two initial reactions that one has when learning of such a shocking incident. Some people might come to the conclusion that it was just some drunken college kids who made a silly decision. They might say we should move on and forget it – that is what happens when you live in a college town.

Or you can decide to say that this incident can be traced back to the fact that there is a disconnect between those who serve in the military and those who are sheltered from it. They say that the sacrifices of the tiny percentage who serve are either ignored or go unknown by the too many of Americans, particularly college kids.

Obviously, there must be a little of both at play. In a nation where everyone carries a bit of the burden or at least is made aware of the substantial burden that just a few are carrying, such incidents would not happen. The way to celebrate the return of the college school year would not be to steal two cherished flags from the American Legion.

Remember, this is an organization with over three million members and whose website has several pages dedicated to the flag. As the manager said, the veterans were upset by it and it was a slap in the face.

The theft of the flags is not just a bad deal for the American Legion, but for all students in Amherst.

If such disrespectful decisions are made by students so early in the year, you have to wonder what is going to happen in the months to come. It is these kinds of actions that belittle the contributions made by students.

Do you think those at the American Legion are going to remember students who go on to serve their country in a variety of ways from the military to public service? Do you think people in Amherst are going to remember the students who came to pitch in at non-profits in the area? Do you think they are going to remember the many students who worked to elect a new president last year?

Most likely, the residents of this area are going to remember, fairly or not, the despicable actions of the few who decided, on one drunken night, to tear down the most treasured symbol this country has – the one piece of fabric likely recognized by everyone around the world.

Such actions speak to a variety of truths. Too many of us are separated from those who put their lives on the line, day after day and year after year.

Alcohol leads people to make stupid decisions, but it can never be used as a crutch to explain a mistake. Students in the Five Colleges bring much to the table. We boost the local economy, we contribute to the betterment of Amherst and its surrounding communities and we have helped Amherst become the top ranked college town in the country.

Such positives can be wiped out by a single dark mark, like what happened the night of Sept. 6. Perhaps it is best to carry oneself as my high school headmaster once advised: People know you go to this high school, don’t do stupid things that will reflect badly upon us. The same can be applied to students in the area. You’re likely to be regarded as a typical college kid – don’t act like it.

As for the American Legion, the same thing happened a few years ago: flags were stolen, but were eventually returned, thankfully due to someone’s guilt. Maybe the same thing will happen again.

Nick Milano is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]