The Ground Zero flag: a national mystery

** FOR USE AS DESIRED WITH SEPT. 11 ANNIVERSARY STORIES--FILE **Brooklyn firefighters George Johnson, left, of ladder 157, Dan McWilliams, center, of ladder 157, and Billy Eisengrein, right, of Rescue 2, raise a flag at the World Trade Center in New York, in this Sept. 11, 2001, file photo, as work at the site continues after hijackers crashed two airliners into the center. In the most devastating terrorist onslaught ever waged against the United States, knife-wielding hijackers crashed two airliners into the World Trade Center, toppling its twin 110-story towers. This year will mark the fifth anniversary of the attacks. (AP Photo/ Copyright 2001 The Record (Bergen County, NJ), Thomas E. Franklin, Staff Photographer/FILE) MANDATORY CREDIT NO SALES ONLINE OUT
Raising the Flag at Ground Zero, taken by Thomas E. Franklin.

September 11, 2001 will forever be a day remembered by the United States and the world. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives in terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and Flight 93. While Americans have many painful and vivd memories of the attacks, memories of the recovery efforts are often focused on one striking image: fire fighters raising a flag over the rubble of the World Trade Center. The photo, entitled Raising the Flag at Ground Zero, was taken by Thomas E. Franklin, a photographer working for the The Record in Bergen County, NJ.

The fire fighters pictured are George Johnson, Dan McWilliams, and Billy Eisengrein, who were looking for survivors at Ground Zero. McWilliams took the flag from a yacht docked in a nearby yacht basin on the Hudson River by sawing off the flag boat’s flag pole (seems a bit drastic if you ask me). The trio then attached the flag and its pole to a piece of wreckage about 20 feet off the ground.

In ensuing months, the flag was flown from New York’s City Hall, Yankee Stadium, and aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt during a tour of duty in the Middle East.

In August 2002, after the flag’s “tour”, Shirley Dreifus, owner of the yacht that the flag was taken from, was prepared to formally donate the flag when she found a problem. The original flag was 4 ft. by 6 ft., but the flag she received was 5 ft. by 8 ft. After further analysis of pictures, it became clear that the true flag was taken from ground zero just hours after it was first raised. There is no clear documentation of what happened to the flag after that. It is speculated that the flag was either misplaced or stolen during this time.

Now, does it truly matter that the actual flag is lost? In one respect, no. The “stand-in flag” does a good job reminding of us of how we all felt after the attacks; that we were ready to band together as a country to get through this tragedy. But on the other hand, it matters a lot. In another post, I covered what I felt when I saw The Star Spangled Banner, the flag that inspired Francis Scot Key to write our national anthem. I have also seen the antenna spire that was on the World Trade Center’s North Tower. Seeing these things in the flesh are experiences unlike any other. With the current state of preservation techniques and technology, we have a unique position to provide future generations a chance to interact with an unprecedented amount of historical artifacts.

That is why I support, a website started by Shirley Dreifus to help find the Ground Zero flag. Let’s help find this important flag and preserve our history.

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