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Stitches help repair ravaged American flag, broken hearts

National banner tours country before 9/11 memorial

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 14, 2011

The sound of a nation healing is the quiet prick of a needle through nylon fabric, the whisper of red, white or blue thread tightening into a stitch.

Less than two months from the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, D.C. residents, politicians and visiting friends and families affected by the terrorist attacks relieved a little bit more of the pain Thursday by adding stitches to the National 9/11 Flag when it arrived on Capitol Hill as part of a cross-country tour.

"Our goal is to make the flag whole again," said Jeff Parness, chairman of New York Says Thank You Foundation, the project sponsor. "This is not telling a story about what happened on 9/11, but what happened on 9/12. We're stitching together our histories. That's what America is all about."

The flag continued to fly for about a month across from where the World Trade Center towers fell, and was supposed to be buried in 2008 along with several others ravaged by a tornado in Greensburg, Kan.

However, a group of Greensburg stitchers offered to sew together the flags so that they would become a permanent part of the Sept. 11 memorial.

On Thursday, the 20-by 30-foot flag filled nearly half of the Russell Senate Office Building's marbled Kennedy Caucus Room.

New York City firefighters — who volunteered their services off the clock — stood guard, one on each side of the patched flag, their white dress gloves several shades brighter than the grayed stripes of the tattered, 45-pound flag, which House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, called a symbol "of the country coming together to try to convey that it will never forget."

The tour, which included stops in Maryland and Virginia several weeks ago, has put the flag in the hands of several generations of Americans, including Pearl Harbor survivors, victims of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Colorado and the 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas.

Others who have sewn the flag include relatives of 9-year-old Christina Green, born on Sept. 11, 2001, and one of the victims of the January assassination attempt in Tucson, Ariz., on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Earlier this year, several blue threads from the flag that supported President Abraham Lincoln's bleeding head were added to a white swatch of fabric and sewn into the national flag.

The flag's next stop is Idaho, and in a few weeks it will make the long trip — with the firefighter escorts — to Juneau, Alaska.

"This is the American tradition of stitching and healing," Mrs. Pelosi said to the Sept. 11 families in attendance. "This is about you and your loss and how you helped America through your pain."

The day also was dedicated to encouraging participation in the 9/11 Day of Service.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, urged people not "to make 9/11 a holiday, but a day to acknowledge losses by making sacrifices on that day."

Monica Iken, Manhattan resident and member of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, said she knows that feeling of pain and sacrifice and what it means to turn it into good.

The tall, slender woman with a strong handshake lost her husband, Michael Patrick Iken, in the attacks.

Rather than be buried under mourning and a sense of loss, Ms. Iken said, she"focused on the memorial when people were focusing on recovery."

"It was something for me to put my grief into," she said. "This is a positive because it allows anyone and everyone to do something."

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