Sat, Jun 12, 2004 - Page 7 News List

US' mission to UN is retired, with new facility in the offing


After 43 years, nine US presidents and 21 American ambassadors, the US Mission to the UN officially closed on Thursday with Marines lowering the US flag for the last time.

US Ambassador John Negroponte assured Americans that the US wasn't planning to stop paying its dues and pull out of the UN. It was just moving to temporary quarters a few blocks away so the building could be torn down to make way for a 23-story modern skyscraper that is expected to open in about four years.

"It's lived its life," Negroponte said of the building. "It's kind of worn out."

But he said the UN remained very important for the US.

"Being in the UN is a little bit like being in the longest running show in Broadway," said Negroponte, who will become US ambassador to Iraq at the end of the month.

"It's going to continue and I know it's going to continue in very good hands here in New York," he said.

In 1961, when the US Mission opened, the Berlin Wall went up, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, the US broke relations with Cuba and the Yankees were winning, said Eileen Long-Chelales, the regional administrator for the US General Services Administration, which is in charge of government buildings.

She noted that many astronauts have followed Shepard into space, the Yankees were still winning, but much had changed: The Cold War ended, the Berlin Wall came down and the US this week was mourning former president Ronald Reagan.

At the start of the ceremony, the flag was flying at half-staff in Reagan's memory. The Marine raised it for a moment, before lowering it for the last time, as embassy staff and passers-by on First Avenue watched.

The ceremony was held in front of the US Mission -- which is directly across the street from UN headquarters -- and the guest of honor was Arthur Milton, who gave the flagpole to the mission when it opened in 1961 to honor his daughter, Patricia Ann.

Milton, a journalist and veteran of the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge in World War II who is now 93 years old, was presented with the last flag to fly on the pole in front of the building.

"It's one of the greatest things in my life," Milton said.

"I'm thrilled to death. Nothing can change such a wonderful feeling," he said.

His daughter, Patricia, a reporter for The Associated Press, said she only learned recently about her father's gesture, which was made when she was in elementary school.

"As an American, there is no finer gift than our flag and the freedom for which it stands, and as a daughter, there is no finer gift than the gift of love which I had from my parents," she said.

"The flag was donated in that spirit -- out of deep love for their country and for their daughter. They cherished our freedoms, in particular our freedom of the press," she said.

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