FAIRBANKS — Gray clouds and a little bit of rain did little to deter the crowd of hundreds who showed up at the Birch Hill Lodge at 5 p.m. Tuesday to see the so-called “Ground Zero flag.” The flag earned its name for flying behind President George W. Bush as he delivered his famous “bullhorn speech” from the rubble of the World Trade Center, shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
The flag has come a long way since then. Beginning on January 1 of this year, the flag began its nation-wide tour, sponsored by the group Heroes of the Diamond and Ashford University, on its way back to Manhattan for the 10th anniversary of the attacks. The flag came to Alaska by way of FedEx, but it was carried during the ceremony by a detachment of soldiers from the Army Bravo Company Warrior Transition Unit.
As the soldiers march somberly past the scattered families in attendance, Lori Glassco of event sponsor North Haven Communities read a poem, beginning with the words, “I am the flag of the United States of America. My name is Old Glory.” Glassco’s husband is deployed, and as she spoke of the flag being with the troops overseas her voice broke.
Sergeant First Class John Knott led the procession that presented the flag. A Purple Heart recipient, Knott said “It was more of an honor than I ever could have imagined” to carry the flag nearly a decade after it was famously unfurled. Knott said that the attacks of September 11 had a special significance for him as he had just earned his sergeant stripes when they happened. Knott said that the attacks “gave us purpose,” and brought Americans, civilians and military, much closer together.
As Staff Sergeant Daniel Meaux and Specialist Seth Vaughan kept a silent, watchful eye on the flag, a small stream of onlookers approached the flag. A few touched it, but for most it was enough to snap a few photos and move on.
Despite the somber mood of the procession and the gray gloomy weather, the event had a fair-like atmosphere. Tables were set up by local vendors and community partners, cotton candy, popcorn and other food were served, and kids could get their faces painted or bounce around in an inflatable bounce castle. For parents, the Army Community Service and North Haven Communities offered a variety of school supplies free of charge. A childrens musical group from California, the Orange County Company Kids, provided a music and singing for the event. The ceremony ended at 8 p.m.
One decade and two wars later, opinions of the political response to the September 11 attacks divide the country. For the families who came to see the Ground Zero flag, the event offered a chance to witness a symbol of the unity the country once felt, if only for a few hours.