September 11 lives on in a sad corner of my heart without the passing of time being felt. More than 700 families in New Jersey lost loved ones that day. I was born and raised here, but had taken a job at a radio station in Detroit two years before the attack. I watched the horrors unfold from that distance, and somehow always felt oddly guilty for not having been here when it happened.

So when I flew back to New Jersey just two weeks after the attack, I was moved to see so many makeshift displays of American loyalty, so many displays of American resolve. American flags on overpasses on major highways. You could tell many were not done in any official capacity but rather crudely put up by everyday citizens. There was something beautiful in that. One overpass, I wish I could tell you I remember where it was, had Styrofoam cups inserted in the holes of chain link fencing along the overpass wall. Those cups spelled out a message.

U S A

That one may have gotten to me the most.

So when I heard the NJ Turnpike Authority ordered flags be taken down so close to the anniversary of 9/11 I was angry. Why now? Have we grieved long enough? No, of course not.

The NJ Turnpike Authority says displaying any kind of flag violated administrative rules concerning displaying advertising banners or flags. Equally concerning was the proliferation of other kinds of flags for other causes.

Boy did they blow it.

Veterans groups were upset. Police groups were pissed. Even our very liberal and progressive Governor Phil Murphy was put off. He asked them to stop tearing them down.

There’s now legislation to allow American flags to be displayed along highways but managed and maintained by veterans groups and law enforcement and coordinated with the NJ Turnpike Authority.

That’s better than full removal, sure. But there was something so heartfelt and visceral about a factory worker, or a nurse, or a cab driver or warehouse worker being so outraged over what happened on September 11 that they took matters into their own hands to show they loved our country and would not be broken.

That spirit doesn’t come in a box. It doesn’t come from legislation or coordinated efforts with toll authorities. It comes from an honest place in the soul, and it’s what started this country.

This country belonged to all of us on September 12 and the many days that followed. Republican and Democrat, White and Black, conservative and liberal, old and young were were unified then like never before. We lost all that in the last few years. I hope we can start searching for it together.

The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5 talk show host Jeff Deminski. Any opinions expressed are Jeff Deminski's own.