Patrick Gannon: Amid violent attacks, flags symbolize patriotism, pain

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, July 19, 2016

RALEIGH – As I write, the U.S. and North Carolina flags at state facilities are flying at half-staff through sunset on July 19 in respect for the terrorism victims in Nice, France.

There, a man drove a truck through a large crowd celebrating Bastille Day, killing at least 84 and injuring scores more.

My guess is, once that lowered-flag period is over, Gov. Pat McCrory will again ask that flags come down in memory of the three law enforcement officers murdered three days later by a gunman with an assault rifle in Baton Rouge, La.

Flags at half-staff are becoming a regular sight for those who live and work around the State Capitol. Of the 19 flag orders from McCrory in the past year, eight were related to terrorist attacks or mass shootings in this country or abroad. For the six months before that, from January through June 2015, no flags were lowered for such events.

This, apparently, is the world we live in today.

Additional flag orders in the past year were for holidays such as Memorial Day or the deaths of prominent individuals, including former First Lady Nancy Reagan, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, state Rep. Ralph Johnson and U.S. Rep. Howard Coble.

The governor also honors with flag orders first responders who lose their lives in the line of duty, such as firefighters Bradley Long, 28, and Richard Sheltra, 20, who died this year.

It’s been a sad year for many across this state and country.

In a list of the governor’s flag orders, terrorism and mass shooting incidents stand out.

Before Nice, flags were lowered from July 8 to 12 for the shootings of five law enforcement officers in Dallas, Texas, by a lone gunman angry about recent killings of black men by police. Flags again came down from June 12-16 after the Orlando, Fla., nightclub massacre, where a man wielding an assault rifle and pledging allegiance to the Islamic State killed 49 people.

From March 23-26, U.S. and N.C. flags were lowered in remembrance of the victims of the terrorist attack in Brussels, Belgium, where bombings at an airport and metro station left at least 32 people dead.

Before that, flags were lowered from Dec. 3-7 for shooting victims in San Bernardino, Calif., where a husband and wife slaughtered 14 people gathered at a holiday party.

Then, of course, were the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, where terrorists killed at least 130 people in coordinated attacks on a concert hall, bars and restaurants. Flags were lowered from Nov. 16-19 to remember those victims.

“As Americans, the people of North Carolina stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our French brethren against the senseless acts of terrorism in Paris on Friday,” McCrory said at the time. “We grieve over this senseless loss of human life and pray for the families of each and every victim.”

Before Paris, it was a community college campus in Oregon, where a gunman randomly killed nine people in early October.

And we’re not done yet.

On July 20, 2015, McCrory ordered N.C. flags lowered to half-staff in honor of the four U.S. Marines and a U.S. Navy petty officer slain by the same gunman in shootings at two military offices in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Where will it happen next?

Patrick Gannon is the columnist for the Capitol Press Association.