- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 28, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) Scrawled with messages of anguish, vengeance and patriotic fervor, an American flag that flew at ground zero is being sent to U.S. troops in Afghanistan as a reminder of what they are fighting for.

"For my sons," "God bless and be safe" and "Pay back time," say messages written on the red and white stripes by victims' relatives and ground zero workers. The stars are reserved for names of the dead.

The 12-by-18-foot flag is being sent this week to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Members of the unit, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., helped seize an airstrip in southern Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Monday. President Bush said the troops will help hunt down terrorists linked to the September 11 attacks.

Maj. David C. Andersen, a Marine Corps spokesman in New York, said he believes the troops will treasure the flag.

"I think it's going to bring a little piece of lower Manhattan, of ground zero, to Marines who have never been here," he said.

The flag's story began two weeks after the terrorist attacks when it was draped over a building near the World Trade Center under a giant banner reading, "United We Stand." About a month later, it was taken to a command center occupied by the police department's emergency services unit.

That is where the flag became a memorial cloth. No one knows who wrote the first message. But the banner is now covered with names, statements, prayers and poems, most of them written in black marker by victims' relatives, police, federal investigators and Red Cross workers.

Some of the messages are patriotic: "United we stand, united we fight." "These colors don't run."

Others focus on the victims: "I will always miss my son Rodney." "For my sons Joe and John Vigiano. They gave their lives doing what they loved helping others."

Some of the messages are directed at the troops: "Unleash hell boys." "Be safe and do us proud."

Others are aimed at the terrorists themselves: "May the last breath you take be spent looking at this flag." "Sleep with one eye open."

The 50 stars contain the names of the 23 New York police officers lost in the attacks, plus the 17 U.S. sailors who died in the October 2000 bombing in Yemen of the USS Cole an attack blamed on fugitive Osama bin Laden.

The flag is being given to the Marines because three members of the emergency services unit who died on September 11 were former Marines.

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