A grave matter
September 30, 2001
The newspaper reporters showed up at the cemetery three days after the World Trade Center
disaster. Jack Cavanaugh, who ran operations there, hadn't a clue as to why they had come. But
found them with cameras bushwhacking him as he came out of the office, clicking shudders and
fire flashes like the first shot in President Bush's proposed global war against terrorists.
They demanded to know if it was true he had prevented an old veteran from putting an American
flag on the grave of his brother, and when Jack informed them that church policy limited flags to
the month from Memorial Day to the Fourth of July, the real barrage started.
"They actually called me a communist," he told me, reacting to the account, which appeared in
the newspaper the following day.
The newspapers had also left out some of his statements, which he had given to bolster his side
of the argument -- such as the policy of military cemeteries to restrict the display of flags even
more acutely and the lack of respect for the flag that the practice of putting them on the grave
"When we took up operations here, we found flags so tattered and discolored, they didn't look
American any more," he said. "I told the papers that, but they didn't print any of it. They just
accused me of being un-American."
Jack, a member of the American Legion, served in the Army during the Vietnam era. He went to
college in the late 1960s to become an advertising person, then found himself a victim of the
recession in the early 1970s.
"I took up grave digging until I could find other work," he said. "I never left."
The job led to a career as he advanced in the profession until he managed the graveyard. Born in
Long Island, Jack grew up in Fort Lee, and commuted to school in Manhattan, but considered
himself a Jersey boy, and seemed puzzled by the attacks on his patriotism.
"I'm just following the rules," he said. "The same rules the military follows. So how can anyone
call me a communist?"