One Year Later: Capitol Flag Reflects the Mood of the Country

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

Capitol Hill ( - In silent tribute to the nearly 3,000 people, most of them Americans, who lost their lives one year ago, the Stars and Stripes flew at half-staff over the U.S. Capitol Wednesday. Upon seeing the lowered flag, residents of the nation's capital and visitors from around the United States and even other countries reflected on the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, and their lives one year later.

Rescue workers at both Ground Zero and the Pentagon unfurled American flags as symbols of their defiance to the terrorists who hijacked four airliners and thousands of lives on 9/11. That defiant spirit flowed through the clearing of the New York City site, the rebuilding of the Pentagon, and the military campaign to destroy the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

But Wednesday, that defiance was replaced, if only temporarily, by sorrow.

"Sad, very sad. Especially because I'm in Washington, D.C. and, I don't know, it just makes it more real," said Betty Swann of Amarillo, Texas.

Not just the U.S. Capitol, but also other federal buildings, businesses, non-profit organizations and even homes had lowered their flags out of respect on the memorial day that is coming to be known as Patriots Day.

M.L. Green lives and works in the District of Columbia. He was trying not to notice the lowered flags.

"It brings back memories," he said. "That's why I was reading my paper, trying not to reflect, too much. It's kind of tough to talk about. Of course, I do feel it, I guess, like everybody else."

The lowered flags were the only unusual things that Plamen Mitev from Bulgaria noticed as he walked near the Capitol.

"People are not sad, and I don't know what to think," he said, speculating that maybe Americans are not taking the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks seriously enough.

"There's no sorrow on your faces," he added. "What can I say? That's the only thing I notice."

Green admitted he does not like the word "anniversary" used in connection with the date.

"I have a problem with it," he said. "Seems like it ought to be a 'time to reflect and remember' or 'memorial.'"

Green said he still feels the very real threat of terrorism a year after the attacks.

"Anything can happen," Green observed, "and I'm pretty sure a lot more is going to happen."

Swann agreed.

"American society is so free and open that there's any number of ways, if a terrorist wanted to come in and do something really serious," she said. "We're just such an open society. It would be like trying to plug a net."

Various leaders who spoke at Wednesday's memorial lacked the passion they spoke with a year ago, Swann observed. She admires those leaders, like President Bush and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, but said they are not the reason she is unafraid of future terrorist attacks.

"I trust in the Lord. I have a deep faith," she explained. "I know that God is above everything. My confidence is in him."

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