10 years later, Maine’s flag ladies still waving
By CLARKE CANFIELD
FREEPORT, Maine — Three days after 9/11, Elaine Greene held an American flag above her on a busy street corner in this small Maine town. Since then, she and two other women have waved the flag on the same corner for an hour every Tuesday in honor of America’s service personnel and to show that the American spirit is alive and kicking.
In this Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011, photo, the Freeport Flag Ladies, wave to cars in Freeport, Maine. The women, who have waved the American flag every Tuesday morning since 9/11, have dedicated their lives to encouraging the American spirit and supporting of U.S. troops in the war against terrorism. (AP Robert F. Bukaty)
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Changed forever by the 2001 terror attacks, Greene, JoAnn Miller and Carmen Footer have devoted their lives to inspiring others through the flag. Dressed in stars-and-stripes shirts, they are a familiar sight, proudly holding their 3-foot-by-5-foot flags on poles as motorists honk their horns and shout words of encouragement.
To mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks, the Freeport Flag Ladies, as they are known, have organized three days of vigils, concerts, a laser light show, a parade and other events. For two hours Sunday morning, they will be in their usual place, holding flags while flanked by Maine’s two U.S. senators, a U.S. representative, the governor and the head of the Maine National Guard.
Before 9/11, the three weren’t particularly patriotic. But they’ve come to see the good that can come from even a seemingly small gesture like proudly holding the U.S. flag.
Greene wasn’t even sure if picking up a flag was the right thing to do on Sept. 14, 2001, when President George W. Bush asked Americans to hold candlelight vigils. But when she did, she saw the strain on people’s faces melt away as they drove by, beeped their horns and yelled out “God Bless America.”
“You knew then that you could do something,” Greene said this week in the house she shares with Miller and Footer. “You knew then that the American people realized within their own spirit that we’re going to be OK, we’re going to get through this and that the American spirit wasn’t dead. It just got injured a little bit.”
Since then, the women have showed up every Tuesday — the attacks took place on a Tuesday — at the corner of Main and School streets with flags in hand. They haven’t missed a day, braving hot summer sun, blizzards, nor’easters and thunderstorms with lightning.
Greene once checked herself out of a hospital following surgery against a doctor’s orders so she’d be there, even if it was in a wheelchair. The doctor wanted her stay at the hospital for six days, but she left after three.
“I didn’t have six days. Tuesday was coming up,” she said.
Over the years, they’ve also shown up at Bangor International Airport and New Hampshire’s Pease International in support of troops going to and from Afghanistan and Iraq.
For their efforts, service personnel have sent them flags flown on missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. One flag that flew on the bottom side of helicopter in Iraq has a bullet hole from enemy combatants who fired at it.
Sen. Susan Collins sent them flags flown in their honor over ground zero, over the Pentagon and over the field in Pennsylvania where one of the four planes crashed on 9/11. Sen. Olympia Snowe sent them flags flown over the Capitol in their honor.
Greene is 65, Miller is 74 and Footer is 69. Each is retired, but being part of the Freeport Flag Ladies keeps them busy.
Their website gets 250,000 to 1 million hits a month. They send out an email message with inspirational words every Tuesday that goes to 3,600 people.
In the corner of one room in their home stands an artificial Christmas tree, holding scores of patriotic ornaments sent to them from people around the country.
They have vowed to not take down the tree until the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are over.
When that happens, they all agree it will be a good day.