By Michael Hill
Above the world’s most traveled bridge rests an American Flag. It remained hidden in a tube until Port Authority crew members, from a steel cage on the eastbound upper deck, and through a series of switches, button pushes, winches and thousands of feet of cable, begin to unfurl Old Glory from the tower of the George Washington Bridge.
“Always an amazing sight, isn’t it? It surely is. It’s a little hectic on a windy day,” said a crew member.
The stars and stripes suspended above two decks of traffic over the Hudson; all 450 pounds, 60 by 90 feet, five foot wide stripes and four foot stars. It’s considered the second biggest American flag in the country, but likely the most seen.
The Port Authority began putting up the American flag on the George Washington Bridge on Veterans Day in 1947, right after World War II. It goes up several times a year for holidays and special occasions; none perhaps more important, or meaningful, than Veterans Day.
John O’Leary is one of the crew members honored to make the star-spangled banner fly on Veterans Days.
“It means a lot. It’s giving back to these guys and remembering them for what they do. If it wasn’t for the vets we wouldn’t have the life that we do in the United States,” said retired Air Force veteran John O’Leary.
O’Leary comes from a military family and served in the Air Force in the waning days of the Cold War. He says the flag should serve as a ‘red, white and blue’ reminder.
“And then when they come back, a lot of these guys are disabled, they have problems, they have PTSD and in the beginning it seems like they try to help them and then sometimes they get forgotten about. That’s a big problem in the U.S.,” he said.
John O’Brien scaled the GWB to check its structural integrity. He can look down from the tower to see the flag.
“It’s a small way to say thank you to the people who wrote a blank check to the United States, you know, payable with their lives,” O’Brien said.
Mauro Caputi came from Italy 20 years ago, but uses the word ‘we’ to talk about flying the flag from the bridge.
“It’s a very patriotic country,” Caputi said. “We help everybody in the world. It’s a good country to live in.”
It takes a good five to six minutes to lower the flag. It’ll flap in the wind for a day and disappear once again. It’s an awe-inspiring event and sight even for crew members who’ve done this countless times. They say it means you can never say ‘thank you’ enough to America’s veterans.
“It never gets old on Veterans Day,” O’Leary said.