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Americans become united in tragedy

Published September 05. 2017 02:47PM

Whether in times of war or in cases of a natural disaster like the tropical storm that flooded Texas, Americans perform at their best when faced with hardship and adversity.

The attacks of 9/11 in 2001 was a time when citizens placed all differences of race, religion and identity politics aside and rallied together as one nation to confront the evils of terrorism.

There were enduring images that symbolized a united country. News photographer Thomas E. Franklin of The Record in Bergen County, New Jersey, took an iconic photo showing three New York City firefighters raising the American flag at ground zero at the site of the World Trade Center.

That photo, seen worldwide, has been compared to the famous Iwo Jima flag-raising photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal during World War II.

The terrible flood devastation wrought by tropical storm Harvey has been another unifying moment in our history. The images of volunteers using their private boats to rescue stranded flood victims across southeast Texas were riveting.

Social media proved to be a valuable tool in helping authorities rescue people trapped by floodwaters. The Cajun Coast Search and Rescue Team, for example, used the names, addresses and contact numbers of people in need of assistance that were published on Facebook to communicate information and coordinate their rescues.

Volunteers from Louisiana called the "Cajun Navy" hauled their duck-hunting boats to the flood-stricken region, and their crafts were perfect for shallow water rescues.

"We are from Louisiana, and we know floods," one volunteer said.

Two months ago, the mettle of Texans in the Lone Star state came to our attention through a news story about Howard Banks, a 92-year-old veteran living in Kaufman, Texas. He was 18 years old when he enlisted in the Marines and fought at Iwo Jima, a pivotal and bloody battle in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

Extremely patriotic, Banks has always been especially protective of the American flag. Now legally blind, Banks would emerge from his home every morning, hold onto the railing of his porch and salute the American and Marine Corps flags on a pole in his front yard.

This past July he heard noises coming from near the flagpole, and after walking outside, was assaulted from behind. After destroying his flags, the cowards fled. Thankfully, Banks' injuries were minor.

It wasn't the physical pain but the desecration of his flags that hurt Banks the most.

"It's the one thing I can cling to," he told a reporter.

"At my capacity, there's not much I can do, but I can honor our flag."

The assailants also tossed his "God Bless All Police" sign across the yard.

Banks then showed some of his Texas spunk, saying that he'd like to apply his own brand of justice with his crutch after the culprits are caught.

This wasn't the first time the veteran had been victimized. In the past he's had the American flag shredded and one time his Marine flag was thrown in a ditch.

Although Banks couldn't provide a good description of the suspects since he's legally blind, local police were committed to finding his attackers.

Another inspirational story surfaced from last week's Texas flood devastation and it quickly went viral over social media. It involved a reporter who stopped to rescue a fallen flag that was left behind during the chaos of an evacuation. Picking it up from the ground, the reporter carefully folded the flag and took it with him as he continuing his reporting work.

Stories like these are an inspiration for all Americans. And just as the flag was a focal point for soldiers to rally toward during the confusion of battle in the Civil War, it once again serves as the visual symbol to unify us during national tragedies such as 9/11 and now, the devastating flooding in Texas.

By Jim Zbick | tneditor@tnonline.com

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