MIDDLEBURY — It was but one stitch in a 20-foot-by-30.5-foot piece of fabric, but Kristen Farrell of Monkton savored the moment as her fingers eased the thread into place.
With one stroke of her hand, Farrell had brought the National 9/11 Flag — and her own heart — closer to repair.
“This is a day to remember and not to forget,” said Farrell, one of dozens of Addison County residents who on Monday made a solemn pilgrimage to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7823 in Middlebury to cast eyes upon the 9/11 flag and play a small role in its restoration.
“This is an event that has shaped our lives,” Farrell said
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were particularly poignant for Farrell. Her cousin, Dianne Bullis Snyder, was a senior flight attendant aboard American Airlines Flight 11 when it was hijacked by five terrorists following takeoff from Boston. The terrorists flew the plane into the North Tower of New York’s World Trade Center in one of a series of coordinated attacks.
“I do know she helped a lot of people during those scary moments; she was a hero,” Farrell, a Mount Abraham Union High School history teacher, said of her cousin after placing her stitch in the flag, which once flew near the World Trade Center and is now on a national restoration and display tour. Vermont was the 47th state the flag has visited thus far under the supervision of Fire Department of New York (FDNY) officials and volunteers with the New York Says Thank You Foundation. It will eventually be placed on permanent exhibit at the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum in New York City.
In the meantime, the flag is collecting new stitches and a lot of new stories provided by people drawn by a combination of patriotism, curiosity and raw emotion.
Among those making his mark on the flag was David Brookman, a World War II veteran and member of VFW Post 7823.
Asked what was going through his mind as he stitched the flag, Brookman, 85, said, “I was thinking about the awful thing that happened and what the world can do to make it better.”
Dan Freeman, another veteran, also made a point of coming in to pay homage to the flag.
“I am affected by this, just like everyone else has been,” Freeman said. “Playing a personal part in this has been gratifying. I wanted to come out and see it and say thank you to all the people who have come out to do this.”
Susan Hauck of Orwell was one of several area firefighters who made a point of attending the event and chatting with her comrades from the FDNY.
“I put this on my calendar and said, ‘This is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Hauck said.
Hauck and her family were living in northern Virginia at the time of the 9/11 attacks. Both of her parents had previously worked at the Pentagon, which was also targeted that day.
The events of Sept. 11 in part prompted Hauck to relocate to Orwell in 2002.
“I wanted to be in my little area in the woods where the birches were,” Hauck said with a smile.
She proudly wore her firefighter’s uniform to Monday’s flag exhibit.
“I wanted to give respect to all those families and the firemen and the police officers and all the people who died that day and are still suffering,” Hauck said. “I thought the least I could do was dress up and pay my respects.
“It was fantastic just to touch that flag and say a prayer for everybody.”
It was a gesture not lost upon Jack McNamee and Tom Morrison, two FDNY firefighters with Ladder Company 42 based in The Bronx, N.Y. Ladder 42 was among several FDNY companies that sustained casualties on Sept. 11.
Both McNamee and Morrison were among the small contingent accompanying the flag on its latest whirlwind voyage. Both volunteered for the assignment, which they are doing on their own time. McNamee in particular has spent parts of the summer logging some big-time frequent flyer miles, with stops in Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Washington, D.C.; and Manhattan, N.Y. After leaving Middlebury on Monday afternoon, McNamee and Morrison were scheduled to take the flag to Portsmouth, N.H., on Tuesday; Providence, R.I., on Wednesday; and back to New York City on Thursday.
It’s a long trek that the flag stewards are happy to make.
“It’s about doing your fair share, and a way to remember the guys (who were lost),” McNamee said.
The Ladder 42 firehouse, like others in NYC, hosts a memorial to the fallen firefighters.
“It’s something we deal with day-in and day-out; there are always reminders of that day,” McNamee said.
“This is a nice way to honor them.”
Veronica Christensen of Columbia, Md., has also been traveling with the flag. She’s the official seamstress and tells visitors when to guide the needle through the delicate fabric while McNamee or Morrison take a picture. The National 9/11 Flag is being repaired using portions of other U.S. flags slated for honorable retirement. Work is now focusing on the upper-most red stripe.
Christensen shares a personal message with each person who guides the needle. She says the souls lost on Sept. 11, 2001, are sending their thanks from the ashes.
“Every stitch is a prayer,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]