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Flag meant to honor fallen son is barred from memorial

BORDENTOWN CITY -- Amy and Patrick Moore didn't expect any trouble, not after the loss they suffered.

They simply wanted to see their donated memorial flag flying over the Bordentown Veterans Memorial to honor the sacrifices of their late son, Benjamin, in Afghanistan and those of other military members.

The flag - with its gold star and images of an eternal flame and folded Stars and Stripes - has been adopted by 19 states, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and is being considered by more than a dozen others.

It flies in front of municipal buildings, cemeteries, and veterans memorials and posts across the country.

But the distinctive Honor and Remember flag, after being initially accepted in January for display at the memorial, was returned to the Moores, igniting controversy in the Burlington County community.

It "is fundamentally flawed" because it violates the rules of display of the U.S. flag, the parents were told by the committee that oversees the site.

"I don't feel comfortable putting my hand into the name of my son" etched in gold on a black granite wall of the memorial, Amy Moore, 49, of Robbinsville, Mercer County, said after the rejection. "That flag is a visual reminder to everyone of the price paid for our freedom.

"Memories fade, even for a mother and father who lost a child, and it frightens us," she said. "But the flag reminds everyone of the men and women who lost their lives, from the Revolutionary War to the present day."

Members of the memorial committee said it had not been officially adopted by the federal government.

Its addition could "dilute the power of the American flag" and "open the floodgates to the next flag and the next flag," committee chairman Bruce Throckmorton said at a March 6 meeting attended by the Moores. He could not be reached for comment last week.

Committee members also questioned the durability of the fabric and registered trademark designation on the flag.

Their position didn't prevent city officials - former Mayor James Lynch, now deputy mayor, and current Mayor Joe Malone - from displaying three other flags the Moores donated.

One is framed and hangs on a wall of the Carslake's Community Center, above the dais where city commissioners meet monthly. Others flutter from poles at the city's Municipal Building and at a nearby boat launch on the Delaware River.

Though appreciated, "those [locations] are not the ones that are important," Moore said. "The flag belongs first and foremost at the memorial."

"My husband and I can't teach honor," she said of the committee's decision. "It's a personal thing in someone's heart.

"Maybe they have it, but not in a way I understand it," she added. "They have hurt us deeply."

At the March 6 meeting, Throckmorton told the Moores the flag was, "in a sense, inconsistent with the veterans memorial."

"It's about the families," he said. "It's a civilian statement, and that's fine, that's great.

"There's probably a need for that kind of statement," he said, adding that "it should be at a civilian site. . . . I absolutely support that."

Though understanding the Moores' desire to fly the Honor and Remember flag at the memorial, Malone said he'd "never tell the committee what to do. I would never usurp their authority."

The town turned out in big numbers to honor the sacrifice of Army Spec. Benjamin Moore, who graduated from Bordentown Regional High School in 2006 and served as a firefighter and emergency medical technician for the city's volunteer fire department.

Moore had been home at Christmas in 2010 and was on his way back to his unit when he wrote on Facebook the final message his family received:

Hello Mother, this is your son. I have made it to Afghanistan . . . I am safe, healthy, tired, and already losing my mind, once again. Tell everyone I send my love.

He was killed in a bomb blast Jan. 12, 2011, that killed two others.

Ben Moore "was given a hero's service in town," Malone said. "I am 64, and it was the most honored veteran's service and funeral of any person I ever remember."

Coping with the loss has not been easy for his parents, who have another son, Patrick Jr. For Gold Star families, who have lost loved ones in war, "every day is Memorial Day," Amy Moore said. "We live it on a daily basis."

As time passed, Moore learned of the Honor and Remember flag created by George Lutz of Chesapeake, Va., after his son, Army Cpl. Tony Lutz, was killed by a sniper's bullet in Iraq in 2005.

"Out of the grieving process, I looked around and wondered how we could appreciate those who gave their lives," Lutz said. "The flag was established as a public symbol of remembrance, a way for us, as Americans, to say, 'Thank you.' "

"Blowing it up in New Jersey is ridiculous," he said. "What harm does it do?"

The flag controversy "is unfortunate," Lutz said. "It's not the norm.

"Why does anybody have a flag for anything?" he asked. "Why accept the MIA/POW flag?"

The Honor and Remembrance flag has been gaining acceptance, he said, and will "fly across the country with or without federal approval. It extends Memorial Day the year-round."

When efforts to place the flag at the Bordentown memorial failed, the Moores tried to have it displayed on a building next to the site.

Now, they are turning to other communities, and on March 26 will donate flags to officials in Hamilton Township, Mercer County; and later to the leaders of their community of Robbinsville. On Thursday, they donated one to the Brig. Gen. William C. Doyle Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Wrightstown. It was not known how the flags will be displayed.

The flag "is comforting to us," Amy Moore said. "It says our nation will never forget.

"When Ben was killed, our lives changed forever," she said. "We're on a new path and new journey, moving on to present flags throughout the community."

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