Rick Holmes: No way to treat Old Glory

Rick Holmes

It looks like a relic from an epic battle, like the battered flag over Fort McHenry that inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner."

But there's nothing heroic about the American flag flying over the island in the Sudbury Reservoir in Southborough. Shredded, faded and threadbare, it's more sad than inspirational to the thousands of drivers who pass it daily on Rte. 9. Cannon fire didn't scar this banner, neglect did.

There's a story behind the flag on the little island. For decades, Frank "Panti" Rossi, owner of White's Corner Restaurant, and an accomplice or two would would paddle out to the island around July 4. They went under cover of darkness because no boating is allowed on the MWRA-owned reservoir, and ran the flag up a pole that reaches almost to the top of the small island's pine trees. By Veterans Day, the flag was taken down, either by Panti or by town officials.

Panti Rossi died in 1997, and his co-conspirators kept up the tradition, but soon they fell ill. When Veterans Day came around no one bothered to paddle out to the island to lower the flag, so all winter it was whipped by winds and rain - and it shows.

Until a few decades ago, tradition called for flags to be raised at sunrise and lowered at sunset, with ceremonial respect. Somewhere along the way people decided it was more patriotic to leave the flags flying 24/7, not to mention less trouble.

But there's nothing patriotic about letting a flag fall apart and doing nothing about it. The flag on the small island in Southborough isn't the only one that should be retired with dignity; I see faded and dirty flags in front of houses and businesses all the time.

If one of those worn-out flags is your responsibility, Flag Day weekend is a perfect time to replace it. And it would be a great time for some patriot to take a late night boat trip to the little island in Southborough to rescue Panti's flag.