An act of patriotism that endures: Flag over Easthampton’s Nashawannuck Pond ‘a symbol of the community’

  • The American flag flies over Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton. A flag was first put up over the pond on Sept. 15, 2001, in an act of patriotism and continues to fly each year.  STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • The American flag flies over Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton. A flag was first put up over the pond on Sept. 15, 2001, in an act of patriotism and continues to fly each year. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/10/2021 4:17:39 PM

EASTHAMPTON — In the days immediately following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, patriots in Easthampton expressed their outrage, grief and resolve by proudly flying the American flag over Nashawannuck Pond.

Two decades later, a small team of volunteers continues to ensure that the flag flies every summer in honor of those who died that day and all those who have given their lives in defense of freedom since the country’s founding.

Michael Tautznik, the mayor of Easthampton from 1996 to 2013, and Jerry Twiss, a retired city custodian, are longtime friends. Every year, just before Memorial Day, the two men hang the flag on a 400-foot stainless steel cable that stretches between two trees: one on the Cottage Street property of Whiteley Electric, and the other at Brookside Cemetery.

“It’s singularly identifiable as being in Easthampton, and it’s become a symbol of the community,” Tautznik said of the flag. “As a community, we have always been proud of our service to the country, and we don’t mind expressing that.”

In 2001, Air Force veteran Dan Whiteley owned Whiteley Electric, and immediately after the attacks, he approached the city about a plan to fly the flag. That idea originally came from Michael Safron, then owner of Pioneer Chem-Dry on Cherry Street, as an act of defiant patriotism in the face of terror.

“Since Dan controlled one side of the pond, they wanted permission to put a cable across so they could hang a flag,” said Tautznik. “The idea was that we would attach it to a sturdy tree, but that tree was in the cemetery, so the city had to go through a process.”

That process did not take long, and by Saturday, Sept. 15, 2001, the flag was flying.

To hang the flag, Tautznik said that he stands on the shore and lowers the cable with a winch until Twiss, who goes out onto the pond in a canoe, is able to reach it to attach the flag. They repeat that process, in reverse, to remove the flag after Veterans Day.

Dan Whiteley and his wife, Debbie Whiteley, assisted with this process in years past, with Debbie communicating by radio from a vantage point on Cottage Street to let Twiss know when the flag was centered. Debbie also used to make repairs to the flags; the Whiteleys retired to Florida about 10 years ago, leaving those duties to others.

A new flag is used every year, which Tautznik, Twiss or another volunteer generally pays for; this summer, the American Legion and the VFW paid for the Annin brand flag, which cost $230. The flag is made out of polyester and resistant to tearing, Tautznik said. After it comes down, the American Legion retires each flag in a respectful ceremony.

Twiss’ wife Judy is a seamstress, and she sews weights into the flag every year before it’s flown to make sure that it remains draped; otherwise, it might blow wildly in the wind. The Fire Department donated some old hose to wrap around the trees so the cables would not dig into them.

Whiteley Electric provided the flag for the first 10 years. The company is now owned by Dan Whiteley’s son, also named Dan Whiteley.

“The flag was put up as a good act of patriotism in a very bad time, and it stays up because it represents freedom,” said the younger Whiteley. The flag is a reminder of the tragedy of 9/11 and the bravery of first responders that day, but Whiteley said it also honors “veterans, volunteers and first responders since 1776.”

He said he was working in Westfield on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and heard the news of the attacks on the radio. At first, the reports of hijacked airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon did not sound true. He described a persistent feeling of “disbelief” that began to lift once he saw the harrowing images on television.

“To believe that that could happen to us was humbling,” said Whiteley.

Tautznik said that he receives “one or two anonymous letters” every year asking him not to fly the flag for political reasons, but he finds the letters unpersuasive.

“We don’t fly it for politics; we fly it for pride,” Tautznik said.

Whiteley said that critics of the flag are allowed to express themselves because of the sacrifices that the flag represents.

Reached on Friday, Safron said it is an “honor” that the flag flies every summer and that he “had no idea” that his impulsive act of patriotism would become an enduring tradition.

“People today should remember what we were going through then, compared to what we’re going through now” and work to unite as a country, Safron said. “Let us never forget.”

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.


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