A crowd of more than 400 watched Friday as some of the final stitches were sewn into the National 9/11 Flag in a ceremony that both commemorated the victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks and reaffirmed the resilience and public spirit of America.
“We’re honored to display this flag … this symbol of the nation’s perseverance in the face of an unimaginable tragedy,” said National School Boards Association (NSBA) President C. Ed Massey in opening the ceremony at the NSBA conference.
Flying atop a building across the street, the 30-foot-long American flag was left in tatters after the collapse of the World Trade Center, and its white stripes were permanently stained gray by the billowing clouds of dust and ash that swept across Ground Zero.
In 2008, the New York Says Thank You Foundation began organizing events around the nation where citizens—particularly local service providers—helped patch the flag back together. NSBA’s conference is the last stop on a 50-state tour before the flag is put on display when the National September 11 Memorial Museum opens in New York City.
Some of the stitches that bind the flag together have poignant stories behind them, Jeff Parness, founder and chair of the foundation, told conference attendees. One stitch was sewn by a child whose father died in the terrorist attack, while another was sewn by an Arkansas father whose son died serving his country.
Also included in the flag are threads from the original Star Spangled Banner, the flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and was the inspiration for the National Anthem. Other threads came from the flag that cradled President Abraham Lincoln’s head after he was shot at Ford’s Theater.
As part of the ceremony, retired New York City firefighters, a Navy commander, two San Diego elementary students, a staff member from U.S. Rep. Scott Peters’ office, a San Diego Padres’ executive, and NSBA Secretary-Treasurer Anne Byrne each added a stitch to the flag.
“I can’t tell you how overwhelmed I am by this honor and privilege,” said Byrne, who lives outside New York City and was the last person to add a stitch. “I lost a lot of friends, a lot of parents, a lot of alumni [in the tragedy.]”
In addition to sorrow, however, the attack also revealed the qualities of America, she said. “Americans came in droves to New York City to do whatever they could to help all of us, and we truly felt that out of the ashes of 9/11, America, all of you … had in your hearts that this was America that got hit, not just New York City. I want to say ‘thank you’ for coming to our aid on one of the darkest days I hope we ever face.”
That public spirit also will be highlighted in The 9/12 Generation Project, a sister initiative that Parness says will provide teachers with a framework to educate children about the terrorist attack. But instead of focusing only on the negative of 9/11, it also examines “the kindness, the humanity, the spirit” of volunteers who rushed to aid the city the day after the tragedy.
Attendees can learn more about the National 9/11 Flag and the efforts to restore it at www.national911flag.org and more about the 9/12 Generation Project at www.912generationproject.org.