Middlebury VFW to host National 9/11 Flag
MIDDLEBURY — Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7823 has flown many flags through the years at its Exchange Street headquarters in Middlebury.
But on this coming Monday Post 7823 will host an unusually large and special version of Old Glory — none other than the National 9/11 Flag, which will be making its only Vermont appearance as part of a tour of all 50 states during this, the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“I believe this flag unified the country,” VFW Quartermaster Ron Browe said of the symbolic significance of the massive 30-foot-by-20-foot flag that sustained damage, but kept flying, during and following the explosions at the World Trade Center towers on 9/11.
The flag originally flew at 90 West St., just across from Ground Zero. It continued to wave — torn and tattered — until late October 2001. That’s when Charlie Vitchers, a superintendent of the Ground Zero clean-up effort, had a crew take the damaged flag down.
It sat in storage until Sept. 11, 2008, when Vitchers — now a volunteer with the New York Says Thank You Foundation — brought the remains of the flag with him to Greensburg, Kansas. Greensburg had been decimated by a major tornado.
While hundreds of New York Says Thank You volunteers helped rebuild Greensburg, some of the community’s residents and other disaster survivors from across the country helped stitch the National 9/11 Flag together using flags salvaged from the Greensburg tornado.
“In doing so, they literally stitched together the two communities, shared stories or tragedy and triumph, and created a new and living piece of American history,” reads a narrative on www.National911Flag.org.
The creatively recomposed flag has been on a new, final voyage during the past year. It is being taken to venues in all 50 states, along with the District of Columbia, to be restored to its original 13-stripe format. Local civic volunteers and citizens in each state are being invited to help stitch in the repairs, using pieces of fabric from local American flags destined for retirement.
Carolyn and Dennis Deters, from Glenwood, Iowa, are coordinating the flag tour events.
“It has been absolutely amazing,” Carolyn Deters said during a phone interview about the tour and the response the flag has been getting from stitchers and observers.
“Doing this has been the opportunity of a lifetime,” she added. “Other than raising my son, it is the best thing I have ever done in my life.”
Middlebury will be one of the final stops on the tour. After leaving Post 7823 on Aug. 22, the flag will make stops in New Hampshire and Rhode Island before heading to New York.
Once completely restored, the flag will become part of the permanent collection of the National Sept. 11 Memorial Museum being built at the World Trade Center site.
Fire Department of New York firefighters will be on hand to assist those who will be stitching the flag, which will be spread out inside Post 7823 on a series of tables, Browe said. The top red stripe of the flag is currently the focus of repairs.
The event is open to the public and is scheduled to take place Monday from 9 a.m. to noon. People are invited to make a donation of $5 to participate in the stitching to help underwrite the costs of the flag tour.
“We want as many people in each state as possible to help stitch this flag,” Deters said.
If the National 9/11 Flag could talk, it could tell a lot of stories that would shake most people to the core.
Soldiers and schoolchildren who survived the shooting in Fort Hood, Texas, as well as by World War II veterans on the deck of the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor, have stitched the flag.
It has flown at the funeral of Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl born on 9/11 who died in the Tucson, Ariz., shooting this year.
It’s been stitched by descendants of Martin Luther King Jr. and contains a piece of the American flag credited with having cradled President Abraham Lincoln’s head the night he was shot at Ford’s Theater.
The flag has also, of course, touched the lives of survivors of 9/11 victims.
“It’s not so much the places we’ve gone, but the people we’ve met,” Deters said of her and her husband’s travels with the flag.
Along with providing a solemn reminder, Deters said the flag has also inspired people to take action.
“The big purpose is to promote volunteerism and the idea of triumph over tragedy,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]