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Staff Writer

DEVENS — A call came into the newsroom at Nashoba Publishing regarding a “woman” at the lobby desk who wanted to speak with someone.

It was Cynthia Martin, of the Mi’kmaq Nation, from the United Native American Cultural Center on Devens.

“I have one of the three flags that was flying at the World Trade Center on 9/11,” she said. “Perhaps you’d want to see it?”

She produced the folded flag, boxed and under glass, that is traveling the country under the care of the Lakota (Sioux)/Yupik Honor Guard. The Yupiks are Alaskan Native Americans.

The big flag was flown outside U.S. Army Garrison Fort Devens headquarters, and on the Devens parade ground by the Devens Fire Department on Veterans’ Day, on the Marine Corps birthday on Nov. 10, and it became the centerpiece at the Marine Corps Military Ball.

As Nashoba staff writer Gayle Simone wrote, the flag is “visibly damaged, with smoke stains throughout the colors and visible repairs to a torn bottom red stripe. It is considered a traveling memorial and has traveled more than 12,000 miles, person to person, organization to organization, since it was presented to veteran Bob Dunsmore of the Lakota Nation when he created an honor guard to travel to pow-wows.”

The box was surprisingly light, perhaps because of the adrenaline that was flowing.

The flag had been flying over the plaza in front of the World Trade Center towers when they collapsed. It was found buried under the rubble.

“You can have it for a couple of days. Take care of it,” Martin said.

Take care of it? Are you kidding?

The reaction of Media News Group employees varied as the box was carefully carried throughout the building. There was disbelief, awe, sudden silences when the box was touched, and facial expressions that reflected unspoken reverence.

Some wouldn’t touch it and one backed away with a look of fear. Another said he felt tingles travel up his arm for a half hour afterwards. To another, the flag is a symbol of defeat that can only be reversed when it flies over certain Middle Eastern cities.

Sun Staff Writer Jack Minch, a former Marine, Nashoba photographer John Love, who spent three days at Ground Zero helping recovery efforts, and this reporter, a former soldier, wanted to fly the flag over Media News Groups’ publishing facility. Where better than above a newspaper office, where our papers uphold one of the basic freedoms the American flag represents?

In order to be sure there were no codicils to “Take care of it,” a call was made to Devens firefighter Tim Kelly, who has Native American bloodlines.

“No,” Kelley said, “it’s very large and must be folded three times, not two. Call me if you need help.”

One couldn’t help but conclude that those four words, “take care of it,” are testament to all of us as Americans. There are no instructions for care because that comes from the heart. Further words are not necessary. Trust is implicit.

The flag flew above Media News Group’s building most of the day Thursday, Dec. 4 and was returned to Novak on Friday at 11 a.m.

No, that flag is not a symbol of defeat. It is silent testimony to a spirit that will bend but never, ever break.

It was an honor and a rare privilege to fly it.

The flag was taken by request to the central Army National Guard maintenance facility on Barnum Road where it was hoisted within minutes. It was hung from the rafters for family day by the Iraq-veteran 110th Maintenance Company last weekend and all participants were photographed with it, said Staff Sgt. Joseph Silva. It was secured overnight in a vault.

Martin now has more requests from other Army units.

“It’s wonderful to have it circulate,” she said.

She also plans to take the flag to the Lancaster Fire Department before returning it to Dunsmore in South Dakota on Jan. 5.