ALFRED — Susan Babb-McKinney didn’t see anything wrong with hanging yellow ribbons around tree trunks on the village green in Alfred. She has been doing it for five years.

She said the ribbons were placed there in honor of active duty soldiers, like her son Sgt. First Class Joel Babb, who are serving in harm’s way. The 32-year-old Babb, who has served in the Army for 13 years, was deployed to Afghanistan in April.

But, two weeks ago the town removed the ribbons, citing their tattered condition.

That action led to a sometimes heated debate at Alfred Town Hall Tuesday night, as several veterans – many of them members of Rolling Thunder, an organization dedicated to publicizing issues connected to prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action – questioned the wisdom of removing something that is intended to serve as a symbol of hope for the soldiers’ safe return.

No final decisions were reached because one of the selectmen, Glenn Dochtermann, was unable to attend.

After the meeting, Chairman John Sylvester said the Board of Selectmen will reconsider the issue at its Aug. 23 meeting. Sylvester said he wants all of the selectmen – it is a three member board – present when the decision is made.

In the meantime, the yellow ribbons that Babb-McKinney put back up, after they were taken down two weeks ago, will be allowed to remain for now, Sylvester said.

“Please let us keep the ribbons up. It’s meant to show support for our troops. It has nothing to do with whether we support the war,” said Babb-McKinney, who presented the selectmen with a petition signed by 124 people.

David Burns, a town selectmen, said he served in the Army for 21 years, retiring in 2005. His son has also served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Burns proposed that the town hang a single yellow ribbon on a tree at the village green – a symbol of the town’s support for the troops serving overseas.

There are nine trees on the green that surround a monument erected in 1986 that is dedicated to all the men and women of Alfred who have served their country.

Burns also suggested that parents of soldiers from Alfred, such as Babb-McKinney, be allowed to place one yellow ribbon on a village green tree. Ribbons will be removed once the soldier returns.

“The changing, the movement of the ribbons will show more respect for our soldiers. There should be a reason for each ribbon,” Burns explained.

Burns said there is nothing to prevent someone from hanging hundreds of yellow ribbons on trees on their property, but he pointed out the village green belongs to the entire community and should be treated as a public resource.

Arlene Carroll, whose son Benjamin, has served three tours of duty in Iraq told the audience that she is responsible for taking down Babb-McKinney’s ribbons.

Carroll said the town told her that one yellow ribbon, representing the entire town’s support for U.S. troops, would be sufficient. She also told Babb-McKinney that the ribbons were looking worn out and needed to be removed.

“My son knows the ribbons are there and he loves them,” said Babb-McKinney, before the meeting. She promised to replace those ribbons that become tattered.

As the meeting drew to a close, Sylvester indicated he might be willing to support a suggestion from Babb-McKinney’s husband, Chris McKinney.

McKinney proposed that a single ribbon be hung from each of the nine trees on the village green.

Others present at the meeting in Alfred Town Hall suggested that Babb-McKinney be allowed to hang as many ribbons as she wants to. But, selectmen said that is not likely to happen.

“We love our village and we support our troops, but we can show our support through moderation,” Sylvester said.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]