Ground Zero Flag

The Ground Zero Flag, which was flown over the rubble of the World Trade Center following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks was involved in a ceremony at the Maine Maritime Academy on Monday. It will be the center of a ceremony at the Fryeburg Fire Department Staturday morning. (RICK LEIGHTON PHOTO)

FRYEBURG, Maine — The Ground Zero Flag, which was flown at the site of World Trade Center after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, will be flown during a ceremony on Saturday.

The ceremony will begin at 9 a.m. Since 2001, the flag has been flown over military bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, ships and numerous first responder stations.

The Fryeburg Fire Department agreed to host the flag raising after being approached by Rick Leighton, of the Patriot Guard Riders, said Deputy Fire Chief Chet Charette.

“We welcome and encourage any to come out and be part of this event,” the fire department said in a Facebook post.

Leighton, now of Virginia Beach, Va., is formerly of Rockland, Maine, and his family owns a home in Lovell. On Monday, the flag was at the Maine Maritime Academy, where Leighton, graduated as an engineer from class of 1980.

He is now one of the 10 members of the Patriot  Guard Riders flag escort team.

A host must agree to fly the flag for a minimum of 9 minutes and 11 seconds, said Leighton who said during the ceremony, he will discuss the flag’s history and future plans for it.

Leighton said the  fire department said it will return the flag to him before noon.

This flag is not to be confused with the 9/11 flag, which is depicted in an iconic photo of three New York City firefighters raising it over Ground Zero.

The curator of the flag is John Sullivan of American Eagle Flag and Flagpole Company of Williamsburg, Va.

Sullivan gave the flag to the Port Authority Police and they took it to where the towers were. They returned the flag to Sullivan. Since then it’s traveled all over the world, said Leighton.

“It’s been places with the special forces we are not allowed to know about, it flew over the spider hole they captured Saddam Hussein from,” said Leighton. “It’s flown on submarines, it’s flown on surface ships, it’s been up and down the East Coast to various fire houses.”

This summer it will be taken westward to places like Texas and Arizona.

Leighton said he asked Sullivan if he could bring it to the academy while he was coming back to Maine for the holidays and Sullivan agreed. This is the first time the flag has come to Maine.

Leighton offered to share it with Fryeburg since he is staying so close by. On Nov. 26, there will be a flag ceremony at the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office.

In two years, the flag will be presented to the Ground Zero Museum or the Smithsonian.

“There are certain conditions that we are putting on the museum that they may not want to adhere to,” said Leighton.

The requirements would be that the flag must be on permanent display and it has to be available for military organizations that want to fly it. Along with the flag, there is a collection of tens of thousands of photos of the flag flying in various locations.

The Patriot Guard Riders, a group of motorcycle enthusiasts, describe themselves this way on their website:

“The Patriot Guard Riders is a 100% Volunteer, Federally registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which ensures dignity and respect at memorial services honoring Fallen Military Heroes, First Responders and honorably discharged Veterans,” patriotguard.org.

He hopes to take the flag to Conway in May. “It’s never flown in New Hampshire before,” Leighton said.

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