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

She said the ribbons were hung there in honor of active-duty soldiers – like her son, Sgt. 1st Class Joel Babb – who are serving in harm’s way. Babb, 32, has been in the Army for 13 years and was deployed to Afghanistan in April.

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

That led to a sometimes-heated debate Tuesday night at Alfred Town Hall, as several veterans – some 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 be a symbol of hope for a safe return.

No decisions were made 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 Aug. 23. Sylvester said he wants all three selectmen present when a decision is made.

In the meantime, the yellow ribbons that Babb-McKinney put back up will be allowed to remain, 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.

Selectman David Burns said he served in the Army for 21 years, retiring in 2005. His son has 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.

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

Burns suggested that parents of troops from Alfred, such as Babb-McKinney, be allowed to place one yellow ribbon each on a tree on the village green. Each ribbon would be removed with the return of each soldier.

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

He said there is nothing to prevent someone from hanging hundreds of yellow ribbons on trees on their property, but 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 town officials 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.

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

As the meeting drew to a close, Sylvester indicated he might be willing to support a suggestion by Babb-McKinney’s husband, Chris McKinney, that a single ribbon be hung from each of the nine trees on the village green.

Others at the meeting suggested that Babb-McKinney be allowed to hang as many ribbons as she wants. 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]