Spontaneous gesture appeals to patriotism of I-95 motorists


September 18, 2001|By Betsy Diehl | Betsy Diehl,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

AMID THE exodus from the devastation in Washington last Tuesday was a small beacon of hope over Interstate 95. Just two hours after the assault on the Pentagon, two flags were placed on the chain-link fence that spans the highway along Vollmerhausen Road in Kings Contrivance.

Radio traffic reports noted the appropriateness of the simple gesture, as did hundreds of passing motorists who honked their horns in a sort of aural "thumbs up" as they passed. The idea caught on. By early evening, flags dotted many of the streets and homes in the area.

By Friday, it was hard to find a home that did not display a flag or decoration emblazoned with our country's colors. But neighbors were abuzz with the question of who put out those two flags in the first place, at a time when the rest of us were still reeling from the shock of the events. The answer was found at the end of a cul-de-sac near the highway, where the Milligan family lives.

Paul Milligan, an electrical engineer, could see the smoke billowing from the Pentagon from his office that day. As he left the District of Columbia, he wanted to do something but felt at a loss. All he could think of was to fly his flag. As he started to place it in its usual spot on the front of his house, he had an idea.

"I was going to hang it here, but I figured people wouldn't see it here," said Milligan, who, with his wife, Stephanie, has lived in Kings Contrivance since 1994. So he and daughter Shannon, 2, ventured onto the nearby I-95 overpass to display their flag for all to see.

When neighbor Mark Duvall saw what Milligan was doing, he took the flag off his house and joined them.

Milligan and Duvall attached the flags to the chain-link fences that line the overpass, one facing each direction of traffic on the highway below. As they worked securing their billowing 3 1/2 -by-5-foot flags, drivers in the heavy traffic honked horns and waved. "You got the feeling that everyone thought it was a good idea," Milligan said. "It kind of makes you feel good."

Bob Marbourg, traffic reporter for WTOP Radio in Washington, said that a "regular cell phone caller" alerted him to the Vollmerhausen Road flags. Marbourg said that the display was the first he had heard of after the disaster.

"It seemed like a good idea," Marbourg said. "It was not something I had thought of."

He passed the idea along to listeners on his traffic reports, as "something we could do. I figured the flag was a statement of support," he said.

But by Wednesday morning, one of the flags was pilfered. "Hopefully they took it to display somewhere. Hopefully they just needed a flag," Duvall said. With flags in low supply and high demand, he combed area stores until he was finally able to replace it Thursday.

Duvall, who works at Fort Meade, said that putting out the flags made him feel better and provided him a way to feel that he was doing something to help.

"It's one way to remember that we're all Americans," he said. "I feel so proud being an American."

Homecoming festivities

A spaghetti dinner, sponsored by Scorpion Boosters Club, kicks off Oakland Mills High School's Homecoming Week from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sept. 25. Besides plenty of pasta and desserts, entertainment featuring the school band and cheerleaders is planned.

Everyone in the community is invited to attend. Tickets are $5 in advance or $7 at the door and may be purchased by calling Missy Sullivan, 410-715-0573. Proceeds will help pay for student programs and activities at the school.

The Homecoming Parade begins at noon Sept. 29 at Stevens Forest Elementary School. Decorative floats, the marching band and safety patrol members from area elementary schools will march to Oakland Mills High School, where a tailgate picnic is planned at 12:30 p.m.

Picnic fare, such as sausage sandwiches, hotdogs and drinks, will be for sale. Atholton High School is the homecoming opponent. The football game is to start at 2 p.m.

Back-to-school night

Carl Perkins, principal of Oakland Mills Middle School, reminds parents of Thursday's back-to-school night, which will begin at 7 p.m.

The evening will start with an information meeting, followed by a modified school day, during which parents and guardians may follow their children's schedules, visiting classrooms and meeting teachers.

Information: 410-313-6937.

Parting words

Kings Contrivance resident Kelly Werle was touched to see the flags that Milligan and Duvall had mounted on the overpass near her home.

"A bunch of us were standing in the street like it was the first snow," Werle said. "The camaraderie was there. We normally just pass and go on home."

The sight of the flags somehow lent a sense of comfort to the neighbors in a tragic time.

"There was something so nice about it, even though there was nothing nice about it," Werle said.

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