(This is part one of a five-part series reflecting on the 15th anniversary of 9/11)
In recent days, numerous stories have emerged of individuals and organizations that choose not to honor the American flag. Citing everything from political correctness to racial inequality, there is a growing sentiment that the flag and the National Anthem are somehow racist, irrelevant, or (according to singer John Legend) boring.
With those protests in mind, I have chosen to kickoff this series by highlighting a few of the flags that were so prominent during 9/11. The first flag to make its appearance was a simple 4’x6’ flag taken from the yacht named Star of America berthed in the Hudson River. In the early evening hours of 9/11, rescue workers split their time between digging through the rubble of the once-majestic towers and racing for safety when another building in the complex would come crashing down. Fires were still raging beneath the surface, acrid smoke filled the air, and the shock of these coordinated attacks left Americans numb and shaken. With little fanfare, firefighters George Johnson, Dan McWilliams, and Billy Eidengrein fashioned a makeshift pole and raised Old Glory over the devastation. From a distance, photographer Thomas Franklin documented the moment for his New Jersey paper, The Record. The next day, the photo went viral, with some calling it an “Iwo Jima-type moment.” Indeed, as the sun faded on this horrific day, the towers were gone, but the flag still waved.
On September 12, 2001, President George W. Bush notified the Pentagon that he intended to tour the damage to this great hub of military leadership. Intent on sending a message to the international audience that would view this tour, Army Major General Jim Jackson sent word to the base at Fort Myer, Virginia that he wanted the largest flag available. Soon a garrison flag—the largest flag authorized in the military at 20’x38’-- was sent by the base’s Army Band. As cameras rolled and Americans watched in awe, a group of Virginia firefighters stepped away from their duties tending to the hot spots still burning in the Pentagon, and, joined by 3rd Infantry Regiment soldiers (The Old Guard), walked to the edge of the roof to unfurl the massive flag. The soldiers stood at attention as the flag positioned near the smoldering hole in the Pentagon outer wall portrayed a stark contrast to the defeat that our country was feeling. As writer Jim Garamone stated, “That flag signified the unconquerable nature of the American people. Those inside the building already were preparing to take the battle to the attackers and bring them to justice.”
Finally, there is another flag--actually, 225,000 flags--that I want to introduce into your field of vision. Just a stone’s throw from the Pentagon is the hallowed ground of Arlington National Cemetery. Each Memorial Day, the 3rd Infantry Regiment places a small American Flag near each headstone on the 600-acre property. Known as “Flags In,” this massive act of recognition is completed in just a few hours but leaves a person breathless at the site of hundreds of thousands of flags adorning the rows of fallen servicemen and servicewomen. If the flags that were flown over the Pentagon and World Trade Center were encouraging and inspiring, then these flags must be described as humbling and compelling. No one can view the tremendous sacrifice and cost of freedom represented in Arlington without understanding the value of these flags—of THE flag that represents our country.
So, while I support the freedom that allows sports stars, activists, and Hollywood elitists to refuse to honor the American flag or the National Anthem, I also support the freedom that allows American patriots to ignore and even marginalize these overpaid, under-talented, childish, attention-seeking buffoons. On that day, 15 years ago, these very freedoms were attacked with prejudice. Terrorists touting a value-less belief system used box cutters, model clay, and 4 airplanes to try and take down our country. They failed that day because we were reminded of the long and treacherous battles that built this nation. When that flag waves, when the Anthem is played, we’re not saying, “We’re perfect,” but, instead, we are saying, “We stand together against any who would stand against us.”
Let Old Glory wave as we honor this great country that God has blessed us with.
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