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A symbol of unity and resolve

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By Emile Hallez

A small gathering of local residents waited patiently on April 13 at Columbine High School, where each made a ceremonious stitch in a patch for the National 9/11 Flag.

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The partially restored banner — which was found in October 2001 hanging from wreckage at 90 West St. across from the Twin Towers — now contains pieces of flags from across the country, including threads from the historic Lincoln Flag and, now, shreds from a former Leawood Elementary School flag.

“We’re really trying to unite and heal people,” said Denny Deters, flag restorer for the New York Says Thank You Foundation. “We take and cut out pieces of those to create a patch to repair areas of the flag that have been destroyed.”

Columbine High, only a week from the 12th anniversary of the 1999 school shootings, was included in the foundation’s 50-state tour because of the school’s own recovery from loss.

“I think it’s important to show the resolve of Columbine High School, where we are nearly 12 years after the tragedy,” said principal Frank DeAngelis, who was one of about 30 people who pulled the needle through the small red patch.

“With one of the worst days in our school history, we were able to overcome what happened. And I think we’re a stronger school as a result of a stronger community,” DeAngelis said, making the connection to the Sept. 11 attacks. “It was a time in our history in which our nation was never stronger as far as bringing people together. And so I think the same thing can be said about Columbine High School.”

The 9/11 Flag is on schedule to be completed by the 10th anniversary of the attacks. The 30-foot flag was stored until 2008, when restoration work began. The finished banner will eventually be displayed in a museum slated to open in 2012 at the World Trade Center in New York.

For firefighter John Walis, who recounts his work after the 2001 attacks with a rich New York accent, the flag is a symbol of respect for the more than 340 of his colleagues who died on Sept. 11.

“This helps me continue on in their memory,” said Walis, who was traveling with the flag on one leg of its tour.

Walis, only two years into his career at the time of the attack, had been called for jury duty on Sept. 11 and was excused to respond to the horrific scene.

“By the time I came down, the towers were already down. … It was complete destruction,” he said, noting that the staggering loss of New York public safety workers has reinforced his dedication to the profession. “You can only hope to follow in their footsteps and be as good as they were. It’s tough. … I go to work every day and enjoy every moment of it. It’s still the greatest job in the world.”

Though his dedication to memorializing his fallen comrades is unwavering, visiting the World Trade Center site is difficult.

“I’ve only gone down once,” Walis said. “It’s just too emotional for me to go down to the site.”

Among local residents honored for military or community service at the flag restoration event were Chaplain Andy Meverden, 1st Sgt. Esley Gustafson, Wayne Miller, Edward McManus, Sgt. Dale S. Steinecke, Michael Newsome, Judy Rosich, Clifford Mosier and Lance Cpl. Daniel Riley.

Riley, who attended Columbine High, was seriously injured late last year by a bomb in Afghanistan. Both of Riley’s legs were amputated above the knee, and he lost three fingers on his left hand. He is currently recovering at a San Diego Naval medical center. A benefit for Riley is scheduled for April 23.

With the difficult anniversary of the Columbine shootings this week, the flag restoration served as an opportunity for healing on a long path faced by both communities.

“It’s a tough month for the Columbine community,” DeAngelis said. “To have them here, knowing that we have the support of others who have gone through a tragedy, really helps us with the healing process.”

 

Contact Emile Hallez Williams at emile@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22. For updates, check www.ColumbineCourier.com.

 

How to help …

The Breakfast for Daniel will be held from 8 to 11 a.m. April 23 at the Columbine High School commons. Donations can be made to the Daniel Riley Fund via the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, P.O. Box 1000, Vail, CO 81658; or to Julia Riley, 7613 W. Quarto Ave.,

Littleton, CO 80128.