Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Journey Begins: The National 9.11 Flag and Greensburg, KS

It starts here, in Greensburg, Kansas, a town of 1800 people in 2007 and now, according to the 2010 census, a town with a population under half that.

The tornado in action (Photo:

On May 4, 2007 at 9:45 p.m., Greensburg, Kansas was hit by a category E5 tornado, the most damaging and dangerous kind of tornado. The Greensburg, KS tornado had a width of 1.7 miles and traveled speeds of up to 205-210 mph.
The Greensburg tornado on a NOAA map.
E5 tornadoes are a freak of nature. Deadly and destructive, they aren't necessarily a regular part of the tornado season. 

1974 holds the record for the most E5 tornadoes: There were 7. 

In 2011, there have been 6 E5 tornadoes. The Joplin, KS tornado disaster on May, 22 was an E5 tornado and is considered to be the single most deadly tornado on record. (See the CBS News story about the Joplin tornado here.)

The entire town was destroyed: all businesses, all schools, and all churches – gone.

Greensburg after the tornado (Photo: Jaime Oppenheimer/ Wichita Eagle
By 9:33 p.m. when the tornado had moved on, 10 people had died and one had sustained injuries that would become fatal.  

The victims are Claude Hopkins, 79; Larry Hoskins, 51; Evelyn Kelly, 75; David Lyon, 48; Colleen Panzer, 77; Ron Rediger, 57; Harold Schmidt, 77; Sarah Tackett, 72; Beverly Volz, 52; Richard Fry, 62; and Max McColm, 77.

A flag survives the Greensburg tornado. (Photo: Mike Theiss©

Rebuilding ...
Given the storms of the 2011 season, many may not remember the Greensburg tornado and its devastation but someone affiliated with the New York Says Thank You Foundation, one of the organizations behind the National 9.11 Memorial flagdid remember.

The mission of the New York Says Thank You Foundation is to:
"commemorate the love and support given to New Yorkers by Americans from all across the country in the days, weeks, and months following 9/11, by sending volunteers from New York City each year on the 9/11 Anniversary in order to help rebuild communities around the United States affected by natural or man-made disasters." 

The new pavilion (Photo:
One year after the devastation, the Foundation sent 200 volunteers from New York to help rebuild Greensburg, Kansas. They participated in what has been called "the largest barn raising in the country." They were joined by the Kansas 4-H Foundation, the South Central Kansas Tornado Recovery Organization, and the Kiowa Country EMA to rebuild a 14,000 square-foot barn, the Main Pavilion, of the Greensburg 4-H County Fairground.

Along with the rebuilding came the National 9.11 Memorial Flag, a 32'x17' giant American flag found flying from the scaffolding of a nearby building undergoing renovation on 90 West Street at the time the Twin Towers collapsed. 

Only 25 stars ...
The flag had only 25 stars left on it. It was blackened from smoke damage and shredded by all the debris in the air. After watching this flag for several months, Construction Supervisor Charlie Vitchers (Nine Months at Ground Zero) sent a crew over to take the flag down. Vitchers figured he would "retire" it, meaning to give it a ceremonial burning. 

The thing is, Vitchers couldn't bring himself to destroy this flag, this giant survivor. Instead, he decided to put it in a bag and save it.

When the New York Says Thank You Foundation was organized to travel the country with the flag and bring the spirit of renewal with it (one report says the idea is the brainchild of a 5-year old child), no one was planning on patching the flag ... until they came to Greensburg, the first stop on this journey of renewal. 

At Greensburg they decided not only to repair the National 9.11 Memorial Flag, but to repair it with patches made from American flags that had survived the Greensburg tornado.

And so they did.
The first patches were made in Greensburg, KS (Photo: Jeff Parness)

Let it fly!

The last word ...
Listen to State of the Re:Union episode here.
NPR's State of the Re-Union: A Town Re-Invents Itself from Scratch is about remembering the sounds of houses ripping apart, the sight of the devastation, the experience of surviving a 15 minute event that changed so many lives so completely. It is about surviving. You can listen to this program here.

Let It Fly!

To find find out how to fly the flag and other flag etiquette, see USFlagstore's  Flag Etiquette 101 and USFlagstore's How to Fly the Flag at Half-Staff.

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