Falmouth Shows Its Support For The Pledge Of Allegiance
By: Christopher Kazarian
The date read April 30, but the scene at Town Hall Square last night was more reminiscent of the 4th of July.
More than 1,000 people showed up from Falmouth and beyond, many holding American flags and sporting patriotic attire, including some in military uniform, to show their support for the Pledge of Allegiance after last week’s selectmen’s meeting at which Acting Chairman Melissa C. Freitag had refused to.
Ms. Freitag began that meeting by reading a poem by the town’s newly appointed poet laureate, 97-year-old Adelaide A. Cummings of West Falmouth, at which point she was reminded by fellow board member Kevin E. Murphy of the selectmen’s standing tradition, started in July 2010, of reciting the pledge.
“New sitting chair, I’d rather not tonight,” Ms. Freitag replied.
That one statement has led to an onslaught of attention and criticism in traditional media and online for Ms. Freitag, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, whose term as selectman will end in two weeks. Ms. Freitag has decided not to run for reelection as she pursues a second master’s degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
Among the most brazen of responses was a threat made against both Ms. Freitag and President Barack H. Obama in a fax sent to Falmouth Town Hall on Friday afternoon. Falmouth police, who were on hand last night to quell any potential disturbances, had notified the Secret Service of that threat although no details of the fax’s contents have been released.
Amid that hysteria, last night Ms. Freitag recited the pledge, not once, but twice, outside town hall at the flagpole and inside town hall in the selectmen’s meeting room, although she omitted the phrase “under God” both times.
The pledge represents more than just the words. It is for everyone who sacrificed their lives for this country.
- Thomas Mountford
It is that section that Selectman Brent V.W. Putnam said Ms. Freitag had objected to at the board’s annual retreat nearly two years ago when it decided to start the meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance.
Ms. Freitag has said otherwise, explaining that her rationale for not having the board say the pledge last week was the result of timing as the session was running late.
Freitag Offers Apology
She apologized, at the end of the board’s meeting last night before it went into executive session, to anyone she may have offended. She said it has served as a lesson for her college students. “They have learned how the media can control an agenda and fill a vacuum with speculation,” she said.
Although Ms. Freitag has claimed last week’s action was simply an error, some, such as Robert P. Volosevich Jr. of Lucerne Avenue, Falmouth Heights, believed Ms. Freitag’s decision was premeditated. “She knew exactly what she was doing,” Mr. Volosevich said. “She had it all planned out.”
At the same time, Mr. Volosevich, who lost to Ms. Freitag in the selectman’s race three years ago and who was responsible for contacting many of the media outlets in the state after her omission of the pledge, did not agree with some of the insults being hurled her way. “I do not want people to be harsh on her, because it is her opinion,” he said. “Still, if something is a policy, she should follow that policy.”
“If she had time to read a poem then she certainly had time to recite the pledge,” said Richard B. Long Jr. of Galleon Drive, East Falmouth, as he handed out American flags to those in attendance.
Not all were in support of the ideals being touted on the lawn of Town Hall Square last night. A counter-protest, organized by Paul Rifkin of Cotuit, was made to show opposition to what he termed “the underbelly of fascism that is oozing up in Falmouth... This reminds me of the old days under Joseph McCarthy.”
He was joined by roughly two dozen Cape residents who stood on the steps in front of town hall reciting their own pledge, which made no reference to God or the American flag. When they finished, the group was met with a smattering of “boos,” leading Richard K. Latimer of Prospect Street, Falmouth, to shout, “You are booing for the same reason [we’re here].”
Earlier Mr. Latimer was dismayed at the whole scene, calling it reminiscent of an incident in 1984 when Falmouth Planning Board members Winnifred Woods and Elizabeth B. Lindtner got into a dispute over “a chair at a planning board meeting. This is even sillier than that. Talk about political grandstanding over nothing.”
The Importance Of The Pledge
Others disagreed with that statement. “I don’t believe it’s being overblown,” William A. Blaisdell, a Mashpee resident and Vietnam veteran, said.
When asked what the pledge means to him, Mr. Blaisdell said it is a symbol “for the country. I’m sorry,” as he started to choke up.
How It All Started
Selectman Freitag at Center of Media Circus (April 2012)
It was a similar sentiment expressed by George R. Hampson of Old Main Road, North Falmouth. “My wife’s dad was killed in the Hürtgen Forest during the Battle of the Bulge: December 17, 1944,” he said. “I never knew him, but this is something...a lot of people here know somebody who has either been injured or killed in war... So the pledge has personal significance to me.”
Holding her 7-year-old son, Desmond, as he was dressed in his Cub Scout uniform, Lisa Cann of Falmouth said she wanted to use this as a teaching moment. “He is learning about respecting the flag and the Pledge of Allegiance,” she said. “This is a good example of the community coming together to do that.”
Thomas P. Mountford, a retired sergeant with the Falmouth Police Department, was on hand to pay respect not only to the flag, but also to his forefathers who fought to defend the honor for which it stands.
His great-great-great-grandfather, Private John M. Palmer, and his three brothers served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Three of them were killed, including Pvt. Palmer, who was shot during the attack on the Confederate fort at Port Hudson, Louisiana, on May 27, 1863.
Mr. Mountford’s own grandfather, Burton Parker, was badly wounded while fighting in World War II, a war that his father also served in.
“I’m here to honor all who died for the flag,” Mr. Mountford said. “The pledge represents more than just the words. It is for everyone who sacrificed their lives for this country. I say the pledge in remembrance of them.”
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