FREEPORT, Maine — The Freeport Flag Ladies, joined by Gov. Paul LePage, Maine’s entire congressional delegation, the commander of the state’s National Guard and more than 200 others, waved the Stars and Stripes on Sunday in a show of patriotism on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The group paused twice for moments of silence at the precise times that hijacked jetliners flew into the World Trade Center’s twin towers.
But the ceremony wasn’t all somber. Motorists honked their horns as people flanking both sides of Freeport’s Main Street cheered and waved their flags.
Some participants said they wished the spirit and patriotism shown on the anniversary of the attacks could carry on for the other 364 days of the year.
“I kind of look at it like Pearl Harbor. There are small groups that remember, but the masses, they forget,” said Les Newell, a Vietnam veteran from Franconia, N.H., who is part of the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association.
The Freeport event was one of many held across the state. In Portland, hundreds of firefighters, police officers, families and friends marched to honor first responders who were among the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001.
In Freeport, a few blocks from L.L. Bean, a weekly ritual began three days after 9/11 when Elaine Greene grabbed a flag and began waving it on Main Street. Motorists and well-wishers gave their approval, and a tradition was born.
Greene and JoAnn Miller have been doing it ever since. A third woman, Carmen Footer, joined regularly after she retired.
On Sunday, Maj. Gen. John Libby from the Maine National Guard joined the Flag Ladies. So did U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins and Reps. Mike Michaud and Chellie Pingree. LePage was there with his wife, Ann.
Walt Shackford, of Rochester, N.H., recalled the horror of not knowing whether his son was safe at the Pentagon, which also came under attack by terrorists. His son, a lieutenant colonel, survived the attack, as well as a tour in Iraq.
“We were complacent and naive in thinking that we were safe within our borders,” Shackford said. “It was a wake-up call that we have to be vigilant, even within our country, because there are people who don’t like Americans, don’t like our way of life and want to destroy it. We have to protect it.”
Wearing a cap bearing the Canadian maple leaf and waving a U.S. flag, Arthur Langley said the attacks prompted him to move to Maine two months after 9/11.
“To me, that was the modern equivalent of the barbarians at the gates of Rome and kicking in the door. And I will tell you that for the first time as an adult, I was scared,” said Langley, a U.S. citizen who is retired and lives in Durham.
Bill Mudge, from New York’s Long Island, was touched by the ceremony. He never missed a 9/11 commemoration at ground zero until this year, when he and his wife decided to skip the event because of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision not to feature clergy and first responders prominently in the ceremony there.
Mudge was laid off the Thursday before 9/11, so he didn’t go to work at the World Trade Center. After the towers fell, he went to the scene to help. Ten years later, his daughter is an Army ROTC senior in college and plans to become an Apache pilot for the Army.
Mudge ended up at the Freeport ceremony after hearing about it at a visitor information center.
“I heard about these ladies, and I wanted to meet them,” he said.
The Flag Ladies say they don’t want people to forget the horror of the attacks in New York, the Pentagon in suburban Washington and in a field in Pennsylvania, or the bravery of the New York City firefighters. And people shouldn’t forget the sacrifice made by the nation’s military since that day.
Footer, for one, said she was humbled by Sunday’s turnout.
“It’s great that everybody raises their spirits for a day, and it keeps them reminded that it takes a lot from everyone to keep this country going,” Footer said. “Freedom doesn’t come free, as they say.”