ATLANTIC CITY — When the flag destroyed by the Sept. 11th attacks was brought into the Convention Center on Saturday, the emotion on the faces of the county first-responders showed the impact of that day is still fresh.
“It’s not forgotten,” said Lt. Tim Roche, of the Ventnor Fire Department, who led the flag in.
“The emotion really hits home when you’re talking about fellow firefighters and police,” he said. “And the crowd showed it in their eyes.”
Nearly 5,000 people, including police, fire and other first-responders from Atlantic County attended the ceremony. And of all the eyes there, not one of them was dry.
“The response was actually overwhelming this morning,” said Craig Jerabeck, CEO of 5LINX, which is sponsoring the tour that will end in New York on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. “There were 4,800 people in the room today all crying over the flag.
“The flag,” he repeated.
Re-stitched by tornado survivors in Greensburg, Kansas, the flag is touring the country, with some getting to add a stitch along the way. The totally refinished flag will then be raised this Sept. 11 at the World Trade Center site.
But for some, just being able to hold the large flag was enough.
“It was an honor to be able to carry the flag, especially with the events that have taken place over the past two weeks,” Longport Fire Chief Levon “Lefty” Clayton said, referring to the killing of Osama bin Laden. “(It) brings a small measure of justice for all the victims of the attacks on Sept. 11th.”
Roche said he remembers his stepson waking up every morning after the attacks asking, “Did we get him? Did we get him?” Now 16, the boy has gotten to hear the answer yes.
“It was just refreshed in everyone’s minds,” Jerabeck said of the successful Navy SEALs-led operation.
The flag tour also includes making a donation at each stop. The Atlantic City one honored New York Says Thank You, an organization started by Jeff Parness, who founded the group in 2003, after his then-5-year-old son, Evan, was moved by the devastation of the California wildfires. The group honors Sept. 11th with volunteer work that helps in other tragedies.
Saturday’s donations, plus the 5LINX match, resulted in a $25,000 check for New York Says Thank You. One of the biggest donations the group has received, Parness said.
“It’s not so much about 9/11,” he said. “It’s about 9/12. About bringing Americans together from all walks of life and showing that nothing’s impossible.”
The flag represents the same healing.
“As a police officer it makes you so proud to be part of this profession,” Atlantic City Sgt. Monica McMenamin said. “My chosen profession. All uniformed personnel present felt honored and proud to be part of this ceremony.”
Clayton said he feels the same honor being a firefighter.
“It’s a great profession,” he said. “(Saturday) was an absolute honor. You just wish everyone could have been there.”Contact Lynda Cohen: