raising the flag

Fifteen years on, the flag raised over Ground Zero has found its way home

After plucking the flag from a nearby boat, three firefighters hoisted it amid the ashen destruction.

Trade Centre Attack AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

ANYONE OF A certain age will recall where they were on this day 15 years ago.

Today marks 15 years since the 11 September attacks, which killed 2,977 people.

Today, US President Barack Obama will mark the anniversary in a solemn event at the Pentagon.

But at the World Trade Centre in New York, where over 2,700 people died, they will focus on the symbols of the day after one of them found its way home.

The 3-foot-by-5-foot flag took a symbolic and curious journey from a yacht moored in lower Manhattan to the smoking wreckage of the World Trade Center, then to a firehouse about 2,400 miles away in Everett, Washington — and now to a glass case at the National September 11 Museum.

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TV Show

A TV show, a mysterious man and two years of detective work helped re-establish its whereabouts.

“In a museum that’s filled with such deeply powerful artifacts, this newest of artifacts is certainly one of the most emotionally and historically powerful,” museum President Joe Daniels said as the display was unveiled Thursday.

The flag’s absence, he said, “just felt like a hole in the history of this site.”

The flag was the centrepiece of one of the most iconic images from September 11 after being raised over the wreckage at the site.

After plucking the flag from a nearby boat, three firefighters hoisted it amid the ashen destruction.

The photo by Thomas E Franklin was beamed around the world, won a Pulitzer Prize and inspired a stamp.

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The physical flag was then flown at Yankee Stadium, outside City Hall and on an aircraft carrier near Afghanistan — except it wasn’t the right flag. It was bigger, and by 2004, the yacht’s owners had publicly broached the error.

And then, it was gone. Officials admitted that they had no idea what had happened.

That was until 2014 when a man turned up at an Everett fire station with what is now the museum’s flag, saying he’d seen a recent History channel piece about the mystery.

The man, who gave firefighters only the name “Brian,” said he’d gotten it as a gift from an unnamed National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration worker who’d gotten it from an unidentified 9/11 widow.

Sept 11 Ground Zero Flag Visitors view the display for the American flag. Bebeto Matthews Bebeto Matthews

The detectives gathered surveillance video and circulated a police sketch, but they haven’t found the man or been able to confirm his explanation of the flag’s provenance. DNA tests of material found on electrical tape wrapped around the flag’s halyard didn’t match the firefighters or other people known to have handled the flag.

But a forensic expert analysed dust on the flag and halyard and found it consistent with ground zero debris. Meanwhile, the detectives scrutinised photos and videos of the flag-raising and consulted one of the yacht’s former crew members to compare the flag’s size, material, stitching, hardware and halyard.

Taking all of the evidence, authorities say they’re fairly certain this is the right flag.

A documentary on the flag will air tonight in the US.

With AP reporting.

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