A patriotic remembrance

4,000 flags memorialize nation's fallen

Dennis Wagner
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 12, 2004 12:00 AM

As the Sept. 11, 2001, victim names were recited, Erin Simmons stood beside one of 4,000-plus flags, caressing red and white stripes draped across her chest. Then a tear streamed down her cheek.

"I was thinking about my grandpa," explained the 24-year-old Arizona State University student. "He was a vet. . . . Patriotism. I don't think there's enough of it. That was his message to us as grandkids. It's just my love of America."

Simmons surveyed the rows of flags and shook her head. "I can lose myself in them. They overpower you."

That kind of experience played over and over Saturday morning at Tempe Town Lake, where Patriots Day was celebrated and a nation's fallen were remembered with solemnity and hope.

The memorial was one of many around the Valley in remembrance of the terrorist attacks, including a concert at Scottsdale Center for the Arts; a benefit dinner at a Disabled American Veterans chapter in Scottsdale; a national library memorial at Mesquite Library in Phoenix; a concert at Glendale Arena; and a firefighters' benefit at Mesa Amphitheatre.

In Tempe, as part of a Healing Field memorial, about 3,000 U.S. flags stood in rows for each of those who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. And as part of a Soldiers' Field memorial, about 1,000 stood for the service members who gave their lives fighting in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

Michael Whitaker, chairman of the volunteer event, urged the gathering to wander around and touch the red, white and blue.

"Hopefully, you're saying, 'Thank you and God bless. Thank you and God bless,' " Whitaker added. "Because they deserve it."

Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman reminded the crowd that terrorism attacks three years ago brought not only horror, but an era of hope, heroism and unity. Even before ashes of the World Trade Center hit the ground, he said, Americans were pulling together - and giving their lives.

As a pair of F-16 fighter jets buzzed the ceremony, he said, "With that flyover, we should remember that many continue to do so."

A series of public officials commenced the hours-long recitation of what Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., referred to as "a litany of lives lost."

Among the victims was Gary Bird, a Tempe resident and community volunteer who died on the 99th floor of Tower 2.

As Bird's widow, Donna, was presented with a wreath of flowers, Hallman said, "Tempe has not forgotten, and will not forget the Bird family."

Across the park, Mesa real estate instructor P.R. "Randy" Cooney displayed his National Unity Flag, a 1,000-square-foot quilt that includes victim names and flags from each of the states. Cooney said he was inspired to create the enormous montage - nearly three stories high - by members of Congress who spontaneously joined hands to sing "God Bless America" after 9/11.

As he travels with his flag, Cooney hands out fliers bearing a message: "May this fabric of unification, in all its majestic colors and patriotic symbolism, serve as a reminder to all of strength and unity."

Judy Taussig of Mesa, whose husband helped stake the flags, looked on with pride. She attended a Broadway play in New York three weeks after 9/11 and was with a crowd of people afterward when a firetruck happened to drive past.

"Everybody started cheering," Taussig said. "I cried. Everybody did. I'm crying now."
And she was.

Photo below
Dave Cruz/The Arizona Republic

About 4,000 American flags stand at the Healing Field memorial at Tempe Town Lake on Saturday morning to honor those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the Americans who were killed in Afghanistan and in Iraq