Flag Day

September 11, 2016

9/11 Memorial at site of the World Trade Centre

This weekend on the 15th anniversary of 9/11, a new flag is being put on display in the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in New York City. I wrote about the story behind this flag in my booklet and video – but now there has been a new twist in the story – a story that unwittingly offers a telling comment about how 9/11 is understood, particularly in the USA.

“Every time there’s some kind of national emergency, we put up flags.
The flag represents the life of the country.”
– Carolyn Marvin, Professor of Communication, University of Pennsylvania.

ny_911flag_getty_0907The late edition of the Bergen Record newspaper on September 11th 2001 carried a photograph of three firefighters raising a flag over the destruction at the site of the World Trade Centre in New York. ‘Ground Zero Spirit’ had been taken earlier that day by staff photographer Thomas E. Franklin. The photograph consciously echoed Joe Rosenthal’s famous 1945 photograph of U.S. Marines ‘Raising The Flag at Iwo Jima’.

David Friend in ‘Watching the World Change’ described it thus:

“Standing on the mount where thousands had been killed, three men thought to raise a flag to rally the living and the dead.”

The actual flag the firefighters raised had been borrowed from a yacht moored on the Hudson River just near Ground Zero. In the days that followed it became the most seen flag in America – a symbol of hope and resolve, much like the original Star Spangled Banner. The flag made a procession, each stop enhancing its status as a revered relic. New York Mayor Giuliani and the Governor signed it. It was paraded at Yankee Stadium, toured police stations and firehouses. It was flown to the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Arabian Sea where it served as the battle flag in operations against the countries who were to be punished. However, when the flag was hoisted above City Hall the three firefighters who had hoisted it above Ground Zero noticed it was different – it had somehow grown from being 5×3 feet to 8×5 feet. This was later confirmed when the original owners wanted to loan it back and were looking at how it might be donated to an institution such as the Smithsonian, where the original Star Spangled Banner was housed. Their yacht was insured by Chubb who paid out for the flag, saying “the value of the now-historic flag was significant.”

Security footage taken at Ground Zero five hours after Franklin took his famous photo, showed that the flag wasn’t on the pole by the evening of September 11th.This most sacred wannabe relic was not what it said it was. In a way that will be lost on many, it is entirely appropriate that the flag was not as it was purported to be – the U.S. went on a bloody revenge against countries such as Iraq, that had nothing to do with the attack to make the world safer.

joe-daniels-and-flagjpg-jpg-size-custom-crop-1086x724In November 2014, a documentary about the disappearance of the flag was broadcast on The History Channel. Four days later, a man who gave his name only as “Brian” walked into a fire station with a plastic bag and said it was the flag from Ground Zero. Analysis of Franklin’s photographs and dust on the flag was compared with dust from Ground Zero and declared a match. Chubb Insurance who after paying out were the effective owners, donated it to the museum.

I first wrote about Franklin’s photograph, the missing flag and the symbolism of the American Flag in art in a booklet ‘A White Flag on the Moon’.

And Franklin’s photograph consciously referenced Joe Rosenthal’s Iwo Jima photograph – and I looked at this image and its effect in a video documentary made with Cat Gregory, ‘The Trouble With Icons’.


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