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Death brings about best, worst

It’s true.

Under a perceived threat of ridicule, petty vandalism or worse, I had no other choice but to lower an American flag and remove it from view. Granted, we were in Europe at the time (last week), but that was beside the point.

Or maybe it WAS the point; I’m having trouble with the concept at the moment.

What, you might ask, were we doing in Europe during a war in the Middle East against what could conceivably become the biggest Jihad the Muslim religion has ever undertaken, one specifically against all Americans worldwide?

To begin with, we were in Denmark, a small but strong American ally in the war against terrorism, as well as WWI and WWII. If one were forced to fly anywhere in Europe right now, at least let it be farther north than those locales specializing in warm beer from fat waitresses and cold croissants from rude, limp-wristed waiters.

But more importantly, we were there due to a death in the family, my wife’s father.

His life was the epitome of an American success story for immigrants.

Born in 1927, by the age of 18 he was a member of the Danish underground, quietly fighting the German occupation until his capture by the Gestapo and subsequent imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp.

Prophetically proving how blessed this man’s life was to be, his incarceration began the day before Germany surrendered.

Excelling at education to the point that he received the highest grade ever for a college entrance exam, he promptly received a master’s in chemical engineering and was immediately recruited by top American chemical companies and, along with his lab technician wife, introduced to living in America.

Within a decade, he had taken the die-lubricant industry by the horns and lassoed his own innovative products and ideas into a worldwide corral of customers, with factories on two continents and offices in dozens of countries.

Upon retirement in 1990, he felt the need to personally thank the United States of America for the wonderful opportunities it had provided for him and his family over a 36-year period. He made the second-biggest ultimate sacrifice to his mother country of Denmark – he became an American citizen.

Out of loyalty and respect, he felt the obligation.

As fate would have it, though, a few years later he had major back surgery and his life spiraled into a world of pain pills and other medications, causing a reversal of priorities, and an old man’s wish to “die a Dane.”

Retiring to a cliffside estate in northern Denmark in 1994, he lived out his final nine years in peaceful reflection until a week ago Friday, bringing an end to his amazing life and the reason for our hasty family trip overseas in spite of these dangerous times.

Each day for nine long years, Peer Lorentzen would raise two flags on his 40-foot flagpole, both seen for miles along the rock-lined coast on bright sunny days: the Danish flag on top and the same-sized American flag underneath.

Although finally reobtaining Danish citizenship in 2001 (they don’t do anything quickly), he continued raising the American flag daily out of respect for the country that had provided so much for his family. He spoke proudly of the tradition each time during our annual visits.

For his funeral last Friday, it seemed more than fitting to have both flags at half-staff. However, we were shocked to discover a fear among local family members. Anti-war protesters in Copenhagen (an hour south) during the previous week had unleashed nightmarish memories of WWII, and although very supportive of the current war and America in general, many were afraid of reprisals from the vocal minority if they dared to show their support. Apparently, the extent of American hatred and jealousy goes far beyond Islamic borders and the city limits of San Francisco.

Reluctantly obeying, I removed the American flag I had obviously raised in naivete, shaking my head in disgust while no one was looking.

I understood. I certainly respected. I did not agree.

But I also relearned a valuable lesson about family, one concerning the death of a loved one and how it takes precedence over all else for at least a moment in time, however brief.

It is one I will not have to learn again.

Richard Carnes of Edwards writes a weekly column for the Daily. He can be reached at poor@vail.net


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