Nobody is really sure where the flag came from, or how it got there.
But there it was, discovered a day or so after the collapse of the World Trade Center, dangling from the 25th floor of a severely damaged building near Ground Zero. And that’s where it would remain for the next seven years.
Like the nation it represented, it was tattered and torn.
And now, nearly a decade later, this giant American flag (30 feet long, 20 feet deep) is on the mend, and on a journey through all 50 states. At each stop, including Thursday at the Dover Volunteer Fire Department, citizens take part in helping to stitch the flag back to its original 13-stripe, 50-star format, using retired flags from every state.
Dennis Deters, who has traveled with the flag for most of the trek, says the tour is less about the flag, and more about the people who line up to help restore it.
“We can’t do anything about what happened on 9/11,” Deters said. “We can’t restore the buildings, we can’t restore, unfortunately, the people. But what we can do is help people mend from all over the country.”
The goal is to make the flag whole again by the 10th anniversary of 9/11 this September, and present it as part of the permanent collection of the National September 11 Memorial Museum being built at the World Trade Center site.
Bill Ingram, currently a firefighter with the New York City Fire Department, was a fire marshall on 9/11 when he and so many of his comrades responded to the burning towers that morning. He says everybody’s role changed to “doing whatever you could for whoever you could.
“Typical assignments were no longer applicable and it just became everybody working together and coming together.”
Including his visit to Dover, Ingram has now been to five of these stitching ceremonies. He says the flag represents how America came together after the attacks.
“Because what happened after the disasters was the most important thing to me.”
Through 30 states on the tour, Deters estimates that about 70,000 stitches have been made. In Dover, dozens lined up for a chance to put needle and thread through the historic fabric.
Jay Unterkofler of Dover, a police officer for more than 25 years, was clearly moved when it was his turn.
“I just wanted to help put the flag back together again,” he said. “The way it’s supposed to be.”