DeKALB – Local law enforcement officers marched slowly to the sounds of a bagpipe Saturday onto DeKalb High School’s football field to welcome in a rare piece of American history.
The National 9/11 Flag, which was stripped from the rubble at ground zero after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was revealed. The flag was sewn together with patches commemorating different national hardships.
One part of the flag was sewn by survivors of the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting. Another came from the flag that President Abraham Lincoln was laid to rest on after he was shot at Ford’s Theatre.
The flag was in DeKalb on Saturday to honor firefighter Lloyd Hatcher, who died in March from bone cancer. His son, also named Lloyd, said he promised his dad he would do something to pay tribute to him.
Hatcher Sr. was involved with the New York Says Thank You Foundation before he died. The foundation is responsible for bringing the National 9/11 Flag to cities that have been struck by disasters.
“This is paying tribute to all the people from 9/11,” Hatcher said. “People forgot about 9/11. Firemen passed away. Survivors are still passing away … that’s why you hear, ‘Don’t forget.’ Don’t ever forget.”
Ten-year-olds Tanara Conley and Lawanda Powell weren’t even born when Sept. 11 happened. They say their teachers haven’t told them much about it.
“They told us how the airplane crashed; they told us a little bit,” Powell said. “They don’t tell us everything.”
The revealing of the flag was emotional for some. Jenni Slowinski teared up when the PA system re-played reactions from New Yorkers when the planes were first hit. One of them said, “Our lives will never be the same.”
“It’s amazing to be so close to part of something that has changed our country forever,” Slowinski said.
The flag was revealed just before the Illinois Chaos, a semi-pro football team that Hatcher Jr. coaches, played.
Spectators stood as the national anthem played. Some hugged their loved ones throughout the anthem.
DeKalb firefighter Todd Stoffa was in New York about a month after Sept. 11. He spent some time at ground zero and attended funerals for victims.
“This brings back the sights, the sounds and the smells of ground zero,” he said. “It’s definitely something that will never be forgotten.”
Jimmy Sands, a New York firefighter who helped bring the National 9/11 Flag to DeKalb, said the flag will continue to make appearances across the country until it is laid to rest at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, which is still under construction.
DeKalb Mayor John Rey and state Rep. Robert Pritchard were at the event and discussed the flag’s importance.
“The 9/11 flag symbolizes perseverance and resilience,” said Pritchard, R-Hinckley. “It’s the new star-spangled banner.”