On Sept. 12, 2001, a massive American flag hung from the wreckage at Ground Zero – hung until the elements tore it to tatters.
Almost 10 years later Tuesday, that same flag paid a visit to Mount Rushmore National Memorial where a collection of local heroes and ordinary people helped stitch it back together with a piece of South Dakota history.
The National 9/11 Flag is on its way around the country, and people in each state are sewing it back together with patches made from smaller, retired American flags.
South Dakota’s contribution to the effort involved a dozen local patriots and three flags, two from Mount Rushmore, including one that flew at Mount Rushmore on Sept. 11, 2001, and another that flew over the gravesite of Crazy Horse Memorial sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski. Veterans from around South Dakota added stitches to help repair the 9/11 Flag.
“It’s just a way to recognize local folks here in South Dakota – their service to the country, their service to the community, just everyday citizens, for them to say, we’re all in this together,” said Jeff Parness, founder of the New York Says Thank You Foundation that is overseeing the 9/11 Flag project.
In the Mount Rushmore Sculptor’s Studio Tuesday morning, the famous carved mountain looming through a large window, the flag got its South Dakota patch.
The South Dakotans chosen to put stitches into the flag included veterans, law enforcement officers, and a 15-year-old boy described as “the most patriotic kid I know.”
Justin Shellhammer, who lost his leg fighting in Afghanistan, said it “means a lot” to be able to put a stitch in the flag.
“I made it for a lot of my friends who got killed overseas,” Shellhammer said. “I was thinking about them.”
Veteran David Moore was also thinking of comrades killed in a war when he made his stitch – but for Moore, that war was World War II.
“I’m proud to be part of the ceremony,” Moore said.
Lt. James Johns of the Rapid City Police Department put three stitches into the flag, one for each of the three Rapid City police officers shot in an Aug. 2 gun battle. Two of those officers, J. Ryan McCandless and Nick Armstrong, died from their injuries. The third, Tim Doyle, was released from the hospital Tuesday.
“We can never forget what these guys have given us and what these guys have done,” Johns said. “These stitches, although they’re small, they’re part of the bigger flag here that represents everything.”
After getting its South Dakota patch on Tuesday, the 30-foot by 20-foot 9/11 Flag will head to North Dakota, Alaska and three more states on the East Coast before becoming a permanent exhibit at the 9/11 Memorial Museum at Ground Zero.
Accompanying the flag on its cross-country journey are New York City firefighters. New York firefighter John Walis said the flag is “a symbol of coming together after 9/11.”
“It’s our way of bringing it back and saying thank you to the rest of America,” Walis said. “It’s an honor to be here today, and it’s an honor and privilege to travel with the flag around the country.”
Parness said the flag symbolizes the ability of Americans to come together and heal after tragedy.
“No matter what happens, no matter how bad it gets, whether it’s 9/11, whether it’s tornadoes, hurricanes, other disasters, when you come together to help each other heal, you’re basically stitching your stories together,” he said. “That’s what makes us heal.”
Shellhammer, whose children also took turns adding stitches to the flag, said he views his contribution to the project as a message for future generations.
“It means a lot to be able to have something like this,” he said. “When my kids get older, they’ll be able to go and see this and know that their father was a part of this.”
Contact David Montgomery at 394-8329 or firstname.lastname@example.org