A large crowd filled the Memorial Gymnasium at St. John’s Prep Thursday morning to honor those victims who died on Sept. 11, 2001 and continue the healing process by restoring an American symbol.
Fifteen local heroes, FDNY firefighters and members of the public helped stitch a patch on an American flag that was destroyed across the street from the World Trade Center on that tragic day.
“It’s a modern day Star Spangled Banner,” said Jeff Parness, founder and chairman of the New York Says Thank You Foundation, which is working on restoring the flag to its former glory and then some.
“It helps people remember what September twelve was like,” Parness said.
The 30- by 20-foot flag waved proudly from an office building at 90 West St. in New York City. The site was also where one of three graduates of the Catholic boys’ school – George Ferguson III – died nearly 10 years ago when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed on the building.
The flag was left in tatters, destroyed by fire and debris, but pieces of it were recovered and encapsulated for seven years until a large portion of it was ultimately sewn back together by a group in Kansas in 2008.
Ferguson, a Danvers native and 1964 Prep grad, was the president of Westfalia Investments and one of 3,000 victims who died at Ground Zero. Raymond Metz III, Class of 1982, and Sean Lynch, Class of 1985, also died that day at Ground Zero, along with former St. John’s football coach James Trentini and his wife Mary. All five and many more were remembered during Thursday’s ceremony.
“We felt it was really important to do to honor our alums [that] died on nine-eleven, to continue their memory and also to do it as an educational service to our students,” said St. John’s Principal Ed Hardiman.
In light of the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, the New York Says Thank You Foundation was on its 15th stop, taking the flag on a nationwide tour where service heroes in all 50 states are able to stitch pieces of the 13 stripes back on the flag. The fabric for the stripes is from retired American flags in each state.
On Thursday, the Massachusetts restorative patch was stitched on the flag, and the material that was used came from one American flag that flew at St. John’s Prep and another from the town of Danvers.
Once the flag is fully patched up by Sept. 11, 2011, it will be added to the permanent collection of the National September 11 Memorial Museum being built at the World Trade Center in New York.
Danvers firefighters and police officers, along with public safety personnel from north of Boston and other areas of the state, served as the honor guard for the ceremony Thursday. Selectman Michael Powers, whose son is serving in the military, offered welcoming remarks to the audience packing the gymnasium.
Members of the Prep Student Council acted as ushers while the school Concert Band played the National Anthem and the Men’s Chorus sang God Bless America.
St. John’s was selected for the Massachusetts stop, thanks to the efforts of Mary Ferguson, wife of the late George Ferguson.
She felt it was a fitting tribute to her late husband to have the ceremony in Danvers, their hometown. George’s uncle John Ferguson still lives in town.
“I remember coming to dances here,” she said. “I think this meant more to me than the others,” she added, referring to other ceremonies she was part of in New York and New Jersey.
The couple had moved to Teaneck, N.J. years ago (she lives there now).
Mary Ferguson said she believes her husband’s spirit has been with her in the years since his death and he must have proudly smiled at Thursday’s ceremony.
“Y’know what, Mary? You did a good job,” she felt he would have said.
Parness said she and the mother of another victim provided the inspiration for the tour to invite the public to stitch the flag back together. He said they came to an event in New York where the flag was displayed hanging from a ship and quietly began stitching – upon unwrapping the flag in 2008, it was determined that 40 percent of it was missing.
Parness thought at the time: “We need to open this up to others and fully restore it.”
A close-up look at the flag now reveals its patchwork pattern, but Parness says that from afar, it looks like one uniform flag.
For more information, go to www.national911flag.org.