UTICA, NY—After more than four months of proudly displaying American flags on his car, home, and body, 47-year-old computer consultant Jerry Wenger is uncertain when the appropriate time will be to take them down.
"It seems like the war in Afghanistan is winding down," said Wenger from his cubicle at Armstrong & Grunau Consulting Monday. "Then again, we still haven't caught bin Laden. Am I supposed to keep [the flags] up until we get him? But what if we never do?"
"Do I have to wait until all the troops are home?" Wenger continued. "Because that could take years. I'm not trying to be a jerk—I'm just not sure when to consider this whole thing over."
Though Wenger has nothing against displaying the American flag, prior to last September, he'd never owned a flag in his life.
"Right after the attacks, there was something comforting about joining the rest of America in a display of patriotism," Wenger said. "I'm still fine with having them up, but I'm really not the type of person who would have flags all over the place if there wasn't a war."
On Sept. 13, during a shopping excursion to Wal-Mart, Wenger purchased one flag to hang outside his front door, another for his car-radio antenna, and a flag pin for his coat. A full-page insert from The Utica Observer-Dispatch provided another flag, which he placed in his garage-door window. A fifth flag, in his office, was a gift from a coworker. After donating $20 to the Boy Scouts, he received another flag, bringing the total to six.
"I'm not sure what to do now that the fervor is winding down," Wenger said. "I just don't think I'm a six-flag sort of guy."
Added Wenger: "The one on my car antenna is looking pretty beat up. I think it might be illegal to display a desecrated flag like that."
Last Thursday, seeking to gauge public opinion, he asked coworker Jim Bowden when he thought the office should take down the flag hanging by the receptionist's desk. Bowden said it should remain "until the injustice is eradicated around the world and God's peace prevails."
"I had no idea what Jim meant, but I guess now is clearly not the time," Wenger said.
In lieu of removing all his flags, Wenger said he is considering "gradually scaling back."
"The one by my front door should cover my bases at home, so I could take down the one from the window in the garage," Wenger said. "Then again, the garage one is pretty prominent: The neighbors would definitely notice if that one were gone."
Wenger said he's had flag-removal impulses as far back as early December, but he has been waiting for one of his neighbors to be the first to take one down. Thus far, no one has.
"After the Taliban fell [on Dec. 7], I figured somebody would take something down, so I took a stroll up and down the block to see," Wenger said. "Not a single one was removed. Even the Dutlers, the world's biggest liberals, still had their three up. It's like the whole neighborhood is playing this giant game of flag chicken."
Wenger said he worries what others would think if he removed them first.
"I don't want to be the first to take one down and look like an ass," Wenger said. "When I put the flags up, I was saying, 'I support America.' If I take them down, some people will probably think I'm saying, 'I no longer support America.'"
As the holiday season approached, Wenger hoped to discreetly replace his two exterior flags with Christmas decorations. But as his neighbors' yards filled with red-white-and-blue lights and flag-adorned plastic reindeer, Wenger aborted the plan.
With the arrival of New Year's Day, Wenger renewed to his commitment to taking down some of his flags. His resolve faded, however, when the first American was killed in combat on Jan. 4.
"After the death of that Green Beret, it seemed like the worst possible time to take down the flag," Wenger said. "Then, last week, just as I was about to try again, that refueling plane crashed in Pakistan. Next chance I get, I'll have to act quickly."
Despite his determination to remove the flags, Wenger remains proud of his decision to display Old Glory for so long.
"They say Sept. 11 was the current generation's Pearl Harbor, and I believe that," Wenger said. "But World War II ended with an official surrender and peace treaty, so everybody knew exactly when they could take their flags down. I highly doubt this thing's gonna end with President Bush and Mullah Omar signing an armistice on the deck of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Ah, screw it—I'll just leave the things where they are."