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Americans Stitch Up Tattered 9/11 Flag

An American flag that had become tattered and worn in the days following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks while hanging at a construction site overlooking Ground Zero is being reconstructed, one stitch at a time, by service heroes and community members from all around the country.

In order to boost the morale of volunteers who were helping with the search and rescue efforts amid the downtown Manhattan rubble after 9/11, a construction crew hung the 30-foot American flag on 90 West Street for all to see. When the flag started blowing in the wind and getting caught on some broken scaffolding, however, it started tearing and had the opposite effect it was intended to have, causing people to become upset.

As a result, it was taken down, after hanging for only about a month. A construction superintendent who oversaw the cleanup efforts at Ground Zero, Charles Vitchers, kept the flag in a plastic bag in his storage shed. When he took it out seven years later it still smelled of smoke, was missing pieces, and its formerly white stripes were gray in color. He tried to reassemble it, but was unable to do so.

Vitchers is a volunteer construction coordinator with The New York Says Thank You Foundation, an organization that travels the nation helping disaster victims. In 2008, on a trip with the organization, he took the flag to the tornado-ravaged town of Greensburg, Kan., where he allowed some of the women of the town to stitch their flags, which had survived an EF5 tornado, to his own flag.

Since that time the National 9/11 Flag, as it has come to be known, has undergone more changes. In an attempt to make it look as much like the original as possible, the whole flags originally stitched to it have been replaced with red, white and blue pieces of other retired flags to fill in the gaps. Among those pieces is a piece of the flag Abraham Lincoln was laid on after being shot at Ford's Theater.

Now the flag is on a national tour and is being reassembled one person, and one stitch, at a time.

“There are so many things we will never be able to make whole again,” said Jeff Parness, founder of the New York Says Thank You Foundation and The National 9/11 Flag Organization, according to Fox News, “but this we can make whole.”

Having already hit 35 different states on the National 9/11 Flag Tour, the flag will consist of pieces of retired flags from all 50 states and the District of Columbia once completed. Parness says that when it's finished it should have between 20,000 and 30,000 stitches in it.

Its scheduled completion date? Sept. 11, 2011, exactly 10 years after the terrorist attacks that rocked the U.S.

The flag is being stitched together by “men and women of all ages and backgrounds who are shining examples of service and sacrifice to their local communities and to the Nation,” according to National911Flag.org, though anyone can participate by contributing a stitch. Some notable people that have sewn a stitch into the flag include World War II veterans, Martin Luther King Jr.'s family members, survivors of the 2009 shootings at Ft. Hood, Texas, and “thousands of everyday service heroes nationwide.”

"I don't know of anything else that represents all the best values of people coming together in the country as this flag does," said Parness.

Once finished, the flag will hang in the National 9/11 Memorial Museum that is being constructed at Ground Zero.

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