A day etched in the minds of all Americans, 9/11, and there are plenty of reminders around the country to help people reflect on that fateful day. One example is the American flags hung on overpasses on the turnpikes of New Jersey. They have blown in the breeze there for years to honor those who died in the 9/11 attacks.
But now, just days before the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, they are to be removed—because New Jersey’s Department of Transportation has deemed them a “distraction.”
“There’s never been an issue before the last 20 years. It’s definitely not a distraction,” veteran Mark Tolley told “Fox & Friends” on Sunday, Sept. 6, from an overpass in Woodbridge Township where a rally was scheduled.
Local officials are also criticizing the move. Flags had been hung on overpasses throughout the country in the aftermath of 9/11. They had been flying ever since in New Jersey.
Michael Slininger is the president of the police union for Robbinsville Township near Trenton. He said they had recently paid for new flags to replace any “missing or tattered” along the New Jersey turnpike and Interstate 195, “to continue the tradition of honoring our veterans and those lost in service for our country.”
“American flags have been flown on overpasses throughout the state and throughout the nation since 9/11,” Slininger wrote on a Facebook post to the Robbinsville Township Police Benevolent Association’s (PBA) Facebook page on Monday.
“Now, as we approach the anniversary of that horrific day, we are extremely disappointed to announce that the NJ Turnpike Authority saw fit to remove all flags on overpasses covering the N.J.T.P. last week, replacing them with signs citing … a code, which is meant to apply to advertisement material or improper road signage.”
The New Jersey Turnpike Authority told News 12 New Jersey it’s had a “longstanding policy” that prohibited “the display of any flags, signs, or banners by private parties on Turnpike Authority property.”
“While we appreciate the desire of some New Jersey residents to express their patriotism in these turbulent times by displaying flags on turnpike and parkway overpasses, Turnpike Authority regulations do not allow it,” the statement continued.
“We cannot understand why the N.J.T.P.A. has suddenly decided to abandon a tradition of patriotism and respect for our veterans. It is not known what happened to the brand new flags that we put up, but we truly hope they were respectfully disposed of, if not displayed elsewhere,” said Slininger. “The placement of the flags was done in the same manner that has been done for nearly twenty years.”
On Sunday, hundreds turned up in Sewaren to protest the removal of the flags.
Carmine Pannullo, a 9/11 first responder, told News 12 hanging the flags in honor of those who lost their lives in the 9/11 attack was the “least that we can do.”
He added, “It’s something that if you experience, you’ll never forget.”
The PBA has stated it intends to rehang American flags on overpasses throughout Robbinsville on Sept. 11 with “the full support of Mayor Dave Fried,” a Republican.