Hallowed 9/11 flag makes tour through area

HADLEY — For nearly two weeks, Jordan Lemieux has spent every single day focused on an American flag.

Although the flag looks much like the millions of others that proudly wave throughout the country, the one that is currently in Lemieux’s careful possession was once flown between the World Trade Center’s north and south towers following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

The flag remained raised at ground zero in New York City until Nov. 2, 2001, when it was taken down, so first responders could tackle search and discovery missions in the area.

Since then, the iconic flag was gifted to the New York Port Authority and has journeyed throughout the country, appearing at ceremonies, memorials, and military bases as well as first responder facilities. The flag has also traveled overseas on a number of military deployments, including a number of US Navy SEAL operations.

“It hasn’t left my sight,” said Lemieux, a retired Holyoke firefighter. “It’s like carrying around the Constitution.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Lemieux’s sights were set on the flag as it was escorted into Hadley where it was welcomed by local officials, including, Fire Chief Michael Spanknebel, Police Chief Michael Mason and Town Administrator Carolyn Brennan at a ceremony held at the town’s Fire Department . State Rep. Dan Carey, D-Easthampton, also attended the ceremony, saying that being in the presence of the flag surrounded by first responders evoked an emotional connection to 9/11.

Spanknebel and Deputy Fire Chief Evan Briant both individually slid on white cotton gloves as they helped Lemieux unfold the flag and lay it on the table in the driveway of the Dennis J. Hukowicz public safety complex. The gloves are a requirement for anyone wishing to touch the flag as they protect it from sustaining any damage.

The flag first arrived in Massachusetts on Aug. 7 and was presented to Brian Miller, director of the state chapter of Honor and Remember, a nonprofit organization that recognizes the sacrifice of the country’s fallen military service members and their families. Miller then contacted Lemieux, who has many connections with several communities in the western part of the state and also responded to ground zero following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“I’ve gone to Katrina, the Worcester (fire), the Station nightclub fire in Warwick (RI) … but ground zero is by far the most horrific site I have ever been. The loss of thousands of lives in a matter of minutes, it really is like they say, you never forget,” he said.

Prior to its arrival in Hadley, the flag was escorted into Southampton by area motorcyclists, public safety officials from Southampton, Westhampton, Easthampton and Westfield for a ceremony at the Southampton Fire Department.

The flag was carefully unfolded and white-gloved Southampton firefighters and police officers had the opportunity to touch the flag, said Southampton Fire Chief John Workman.

“This flag, to me, represents one of the last breaths of air of the hundreds of firefighters and police and first responders who gave in service to the community. It represents the risk that the community faces to global harm and also the hope for the future, which is the reason I got into the job in the first place: to help people,” said Workman.

State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey said he was deeply grateful for the chance to see the flag raised in Massachusetts.

“For firefighters who watched the day’s events unfold, and for the generation of young men and women who entered the fire service since then, this historic flag is a physical reminder of those we lost and those who rushed to help,” said Ostroskey in a statement.

In addition to representatives from Southampton, the ceremony was attended by Scouts from Westfield BSA Troop 124, State Police Trooper Patrick Clayton and his partner K-9 Bijou from the Fire & Explosion Investigation Unit assigned to the state fire marshal’s office, state Sen. John Velis, D-Westfield, and state Rep. Kelly Pease, R-Westfield.

“The ground zero flag is a powerful reminder, even 21 years later, of all we lost on that tragic day in September, 2001,” Velis said in a statement to the Gazette. “But the flag also reminds us of the brave first responders who ran into danger that fateful day and the resolute strength of our country in the days and months following. Events like these are a powerful opportunity for our community to come together and remember, and I am grateful to the Southampton Fire Department for making this special ceremony possible.”

In addition to Hadley and Southampton, the flag has been to West Stockbridge, Springfield, Holyoke, Blandford and Barnes National Air Guard Base.

The flag is now heading to Greenfield as it is prepared to be carried in the upcoming New England Run for the Fallen from Aug. 19-21, starting in Bernardston and ending in Kittery, Maine.

On Nov. 2, 2026 — the 25th anniversary of when it was originally removed from the between the Twin Towers — the flag will be retired at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, according to Lemieux.

In the meantime, the flag will continue to travel to New England communities and will be on display for the public at ground zero for Sept. 11.

Lemieux said that although caring for the flag has taken up so much of his time, he feels very honored to have been given the responsibility.

“People keep saying, ‘oh, you’ll be happy when it’s gone,’ and I’m sure I will. I know there are others that need to see it, but it’s an honor to be entrusted with the flag and get it to as many people and communities as I can,” said Lemieux. “This ranks up there with one of the greatest things I’ve ever done.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazetteet.com.


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