As the sun was rising on the morning of 9/11, four members of the Vietnam Veterans Association Chapter 203 met and hung a large American flag from the overpass at the ridge cut on Interstate 24.
Motorists honked, showing their appreciation for the show of patriotism on the anniversary of one of the nation's darkest days.
Veterans have been hanging the flag from the overpass every year on the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and New York City's Twin Towers.
The veterans wanted the flag hung by 9:11 a.m. so that they could pray beside it, which is a part of their tradition.
"What we were trying to do was be appreciative and respectful," said Liz Allen, an associate member of the chapter who was helping three veterans hang the flag.
But the mood changed shortly thereafter when an employee with the Tennessee Department of Transportation apparently spotted the flag and pulled over to inform the group they could not hang the flag above traffic lanes, citing safety concerns.
The veterans were told to remove the heavy-duty zip ties that secured the 20-by-30-foot flag above the moving traffic and take it down.
A heated dialogue broke out between the veterans and the TDOT employee.
The flag was being removed when someone suggested that it be hung from the far side of the overpass, above the trees and away from traffic, according to Allen.
All parties agreed to the compromise, and the flag was moved.
Jennifer Flynn, a community relations officer with TDOT, said the employee was just doing his job.
"TDOT is not trying to stifle patriotism," Flynn said. "We are just looking to keep everyone safe."
Flynn said that she was not aware that the veterans had hung the flag every year, and she was surprised that the veterans had not had an issue before. She also said TDOT continually must ask people to move signs and flags from bridges.
"We know that the veterans were not trying to cause harm," Flynn said. "Things are just called accidents for a reason, and no one would have planned for the flag to fall into traffic."
Flynn said more than 113,000 vehicles travel under the overpass daily, and that TDOT would be liable if they knew the flag was there and turned a blind eye and an accident occurred.
Allen said the flag wasn't as visible once it was moved, but it was "better than nothing."
The chapter members stood beside the flag waving to traffic for more than two hours before taking it down, until next year.
Allen said she and the veterans just wished that the TDOT employee's attitude would have been more helpful in the interaction and that the tradition could have continued in the same manner.
"It was a respect issue for us," Allen said. "Respect to the day of 9/11, the veterans, the flag, and the whole issue."
Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6592.