Ground Zero Flag Endures as a Symbol of Hope and Rebuilding

The Ground Zero flag on view in the 9/11 Memorial Museum's historical exhibition. Photo by 9/11 Memorial staff.

On the evening of September 11, 2001, three firefighters hoisted an American flag above the scorched ruins and persistent fires of the World Trade Center site, an iconic moment captured in an enduring image by Thomas E. Franklin, a photographer formerly affiliated with The Record of Bergen County, New Jersey. 

The photo of the flag-raising came to symbolize the fortitude of first responders and became a symbol of hope and rebuilding in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. But soon after its raising, the flag, which had been taken from a yacht moored at a nearby dock, disappeared from Ground Zero. 

New York City officials tried to track it down, but the flag’s whereabouts were unknown until late 2014, according to the New York Times. After the mystery of the missing flag had been featured on a program on H2, a spinoff of the History Channel, a former Marine, who viewed the program, dropped off the flag at a fire station in Everett, Washington.

With the help of the flag’s original owner, Shirley Dreifus, in honor of her late husband Spiros E. Kopelakis, and in cooperation with Chubb, the global insurance company, the iconic flag was donated to the Museum in 2016. The authenticity of the flag was determined through a months-long forensic investigation.

“In the darkest hours of 9/11 when our country was at risk of losing all hope, the raising of this American flag by our first responders helped reaffirm that the nation would endure, would recover and rebuild, that we would always remember and honor all of those who lost their lives and risk their own to save others,” said former 9/11 Memorial President Joe Daniels. “We had always hoped this special flag and its story would be shared with our millions of annual visitors coming from around the world, and for that, we are thankful to Shirley Dreifus, the city of Everett, HISTORY, A+E Networks, and Chubb.”

Since its opening in 2014, the Museum displayed a large photograph of the three firefighters lifting the flag above the rubble as part of its historical exhibition

By 9/11 Memorial Staff

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