The water that washed into New Orleans also washed away a lot of the city. One of my neighbors, a Marine and his family, can be counted among the casualties of Katrina's flood.
Although originally from North Carolina, my Marine neighbor took a liking to our quirky town. His tour of duty here with the Leathernecks had ended, but his kids were in good schools and the wife liked the neighborhood. So they stayed.
When Katrina came to town, my Marine neighbor had rejoined and was serving in Iraq. His family reluctantly fled to the familiar hills of North Carolina as the flood water rose on our street.
So now resettled, and with nothing to come back to in New Orleans except years of rebuilding and dust and sweaty work, my Marine neighbor informed me that they are not coming back to New Orleans.
I totally understand. Their children are now settled in to their new schools. The oldest will graduate from high school this spring, and the youngest is just starting. The wife has a new job. The Marines have sent my friend back stateside, and he's spending most of his time at Camp LeJeune.
My Marine neighbor came back to get some things from their mud and mold coverned house last week. He spent two days digging and found some important papers and a few unspoiled items to take back with him, back to North Carolina.
But before he left, he put up his flag. We both flew the stars and stripes on the front of our houses before the hurricane came to town.
I was at my house the other day, and there it was, waving free and showing its bright colors to the sepia-toned houses and shrubbery all along our street. There it was, swaying gently in the breeze, as if my Marine friend had just left for work and would be coming home soon like he did so many days before.
I felt a great deal of appreciation for him at that moment. A good neighbor, a fine father, and a Marine of exemplary stature, how fortunate I was to have lived across the street from him for these six some years.
That simple gesture of raising the colors before he left, what did that say about him, about our neighborhood, about New Orleans?
They could say, "These Colors Don't Run," or, "Don't Tread on Me," statements of defiance against Katrina and her destructive force.
But what I think it says is, "Semper Fidelis," the Marine's motto, "Always Faithful." Because even if circumstances and family responsibilities have carried his family away, I think my Marine neighbor knows that friendships will endure, and New Orleans will not be washed away.