Flags return to SOU

Orville Hector | Daily TidingsSOU students Cameron Mace, left, and Blane Newfield plant flags outside of Churchill Hall in honor of 9/11 victims.

Southern Oregon University's front lawn is once again covered in miniature flags, this time 2,973 of the star-spangled variety.

The display, representing all civilian deaths during the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, was organized by student veterans Blane Newfield, 25, and Mike Rubin, 26, who took offense at the Iraq Body Count Exhibit memorializing American and Iraqi casualties side by side with red and white flags the last week of April. So they decided to set up an exhibit of their own, entitled "Terrorism Awareness Memorial."

"This is just a memorial to the Americans who lost their lives due to the terrorist attacks in 9/11, and it's for Memorial Day as well," Newfield said. "It's not a retaliation."

About 10 students and community members spent Thursday morning setting up the American flags in spokes around the school's main flag pole, where the flags happened to be flying at half staff in honor of a Baker City soldier who was killed in Iraq May 11 by an improvised explosive device.

Newfield and Rubin collected more than $1,000 from nine community sponsors, including Ashland-based Adroit Construction, to pay for the exhibit.

"I think it's important to honor our young patriots," said Adroit CEO Bob Mayers, who added that the previous flag display did not play into his decision. "It's a tribute to all the people who give their lives on behalf of all of us."

Newfield and Rubin also sought support of the Veterans Student Union at SOU, a group formed just this year to help student veterans connect. About 25 of the more than 100 student veterans participate, and this exhibit should draw more interest from those so far uninvolved, said Cameron Mace, the student president of the union currently serving in the National Guard.

"We were proud to come out here and be supportive," he said. "It's trying to open people's eyes and say 'Hey, all these people died.'"

Students passing by the exhibit said they thought both displays held an important message.

"As long as the school approved of it, I think it's perfectly all right," said SOU junior Clayton Koskey. The issue of making a political statement was irrelevant, he said, because people have a right to state their minds. Both exhibits made strong visual statements, he said.

"There is a connection because the first one was about all soldiers who were dying, both American and Iraqi ... and this one is for Memorial Day."

Danny Moffat, the leader of the SOU student group Students for Truth that sponsored the Iraq Body Count Exhibit, said he liked the new round of flags.

"I think the new display is great," he said this morning. "Of course it is a reaction to ours, and they're copying our idea, which I think is flattery."

Moffat added that he thought there should be a permanent plaque or memorial to the victims of Sept. 11.

The school gave both groups permission to swathe the front lawn with flags to encourage debate, said Vice President of Student Affairs Jonathan Eldridge, who met with Newfield and Rubin after the first display went up.

"We're excited that our students are willing to take action to engage people in thoughtful conversation," Eldridge said.

The current display will stay up at least until Wednesday, Newfield said.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .

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