Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mass. Highway Troop Banners May Lose Homemade Spirit

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Mass. Highway Troop Banners May Lose Homemade Spirit

Article excerpt

On an overpass that crosses Route 495 in Chelmsford, Mass., Jim Wareing maintains a permanent tribute to Lance Cpl. Andrew J. Zabierek, who died in Iraq in 2004. Flags and banners line the fence along the bridge that Andrew's father, Steve Zabierek, drives over everyday on his way to work. The town has even officially christened it the Lance Cpl. Andrew J. Zabierek Memorial Bridge.

"[It's] very significant to that family, to me, and to all the other troops who are returning home," says Mr. Wareing, who makes similar bridge tributes whenever a serviceman or servicewoman from his Boston suburb dies or returns home.

But there's a problem: the Massachusetts Highway Department says displays like Wareing's pose a safety hazard. It plans to remove them. "We were concerned that one of them would drop onto the windshield of a car," says Luisa Paiewonsky, commissioner of the highway department.

Still, sympathetic to the military support groups' intent, officials recently offered to install alternative metal "Thank you" signs - bolted down for safety - to welcome returning military personnel. But many veterans groups reject that solution, saying the signs are too impersonal and an affront to those in uniform.

The two sides continue to talk over the issue and say they hope to reach a consensus in the "near future."

"Why is it that they have to continually go after veterans when the war is on for stupid, little things like this?" asks John "Jake" Comer, past national commander of the American Legion. "The families that put the signs up there - [like] "Welcome home, Jim" - that's a personal relationship for the families, and it's all they've got to live for, that one day Joe or Jim will come home and he'll see that he was represented and recognized by his family and his friends."

Linda Noone decorates a bridge over Interstate 93 in Reading, Mass., with American flags to show support for military personnel such as her daughter, a marine and an Iraq veteran. "The flag stands for more than just what's going on today. …

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