Monday, February 21, 2011

Kennedy Adds Florida Touch to 9/11 Flag

The contributions of NASA and Kennedy Space Center were stitched into the fabric of one of the nation's most recognizable symbols Friday when flags from Florida's Spaceport were sewn into an American Flag recovered near ground zero following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"The National 9/11 Flag" is on a cross-country journey to be restored to its original 13-stripe design using pieces of fabric from American flags destined for retirement in all 50 states. The Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex was the official stop for the state of Florida on Feb. 18.

"For our site to be chosen, you know, on one hand I believe is all together fitting and proper because what we do at Kennedy Space Center is dare mighty things on behalf of the American people and all of humankind," said Joe Dowdy, special operations manager at Kennedy. "Some of that involves sacrifice and certainly this flag is an incredible demonstration of what free people sometimes have to be called upon to do, to sacrifice even their own lives."

The Brevard Police and Fire Pipes and Drums kicked off the stitching ceremony, followed by the United States Air Force 45th Space Wing Honor Guard stationed at nearby Patrick Air Force Base and more than a dozen 9/11 first responders.

A host of Floridians were invited to take part in the stitching ceremony, including Danny McKnight, the retired Army Colonel who led the ground convoy in 1993's battle of Mogadishu, Somalia, the combat depicted in the film "Black Hawk Down."

Craig Carson, an agent with the Brevard County Sheriff's Office who was nominated to take part in the ceremony, spent eight to nine months helping with the recovery effort in New York City.

"It was miraculous," Carson said. "It seemed like the whole world showed up to New York City that day to help. It was amazing."

The flag has become one of the most enduring symbols of the recovery from the attack.

"A few days after the collapse of the World Trade Center this flag was hanging on a scaffolding at 90 West Street, which was a building directly south of the World Trade Center that was heavily damaged when the south tower collapsed," said Jeff Parness, director, founder and chairman of the “New York Says Thank You Foundation."

Charlie Vitchers, the construction superintendant for the cleanup of ground zero, sent a crew up to rescue the flag, Parness said. Seven years later, Vitchers donated the flag to the organization so it could make a new mark in American history.

LeRoy Haynes was a supervising fire marshal and commander of the Bronx/Queens Fire Department and was on the corner of New York City's Church and Vesey streets, headed to the emergency command center at the World Trade Center with co-workers when the first tower began to crumble.

"We all ran and that big cloud of dust and smoke started to come at me," Haynes recalled. "That cloud was coming faster than I could run, the wind blew my helmet off and at that point in time all I could do was dive under a car."

Haynes survived and gathered all the strength and spirit he could to help setup a triage center on Broadway later that day. Haynes said he remembered seeing the flag in the aftermath of the attack.

"The flag was a mess. It was full of holes, parts were burned, singed, and it looked like it had been in a war," Haynes said. "It was amazing that it was one of the few things still standing."

Earlier this year, "The National 9/11 Flag" became a symbol of healing at the funeral of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green. Born Sept. 11, 2001, Green was killed at a town hall event held by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, on Jan. 8, 2011. Giffords is the wife of STS-134 Commander Mark Kelly.

"We realize that there are so many things that will never be made whole again, but this flag can be made whole again," Parness said. "There's this cathartic element of 'Well, I can finally do something. I can hold this needle and thread and try to make this whole.'"

The flags of Kennedy join other rich pieces of history, including parts of the flag that President Abraham Lincoln was laid on in 1865 after he was shot at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C.

"I kind of think of America as this magnificent mosaic," Dowdy said. "It's composed of all these various events, various places that make us a very special country. So there's this wonderful parallel about what this flag represents and what we represent here at Kennedy."

The star-spangled banner, which brings new meaning to national collaboration, later stood proud amongst rockets and capsules from NASA's Mercury, Gemini and Apollo days at the visitor complex's Rocket Garden. Including hundreds of people at Kennedy, "The National 9/11 Flag" is estimated to have touched more than 100 million lives.

Once complete, "The National 9/11 Flag" will become a permanent collection of the National September 11 Memorial Museum being built at the World Trade Center site. There, America's flag can evoke a sense of pride, unity and hunger to keep achieving greatness, just as the nation's space program has for more than half a decade.

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