The iconic U.S. flag that was raised by three firefighters during the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City has been found and sent to the 9/11 Museum after 15 years of being vanished. The flag was raised around 5 p.m. amid the ashes of the World Trade Center tragedy, a defining moment for America and the World that took place 15 years ago.

The emblematic moment, captured by former photographer Thomas E. Franklin from The Bergen Record, soon became a symbol of patriotism, resilience, and hope in the face of tragedy. But hours after being raised, the flag was gone and apparently replaced with a bigger one. Now it has been found and it will be exhibited at the entrance of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, which was opened in 2014 at New York City.

U.S. Flag, 11 September, Memorial
The historic missing 9/11 flag has returned to Ground Zero, New York City. Image credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images news

“In a museum that’s filled with such deeply powerful artifacts, this newest of artifacts is certainly one of the most emotionally and historically powerful,” said Joe Daniels, President of the Museum regarding the display of the flag last Thursday.

The flag’s reappearance is as mysterious as its disappearance

The 3-foot-by-5-foot flag was taken by the firefighter from a yacht moored in lower Manhattan that day. Then, it was taken into the Ground Zero disaster to be raised up.

Certainly, the flag and the firefighters raising it, represent one of the most remembered images Americans have from that day. The photograph has inspired a postage stamp and sculptures.

The flag was used at Yankee Stadium during a 9/11 Prayer Service, outside the City Hall. It was also signed by New York’s governor and by 2 mayors. It was even raised on the USS Roosevelt aircraft carrier when missions were sent to Afghanistan. However, that wasn’t the right flag.

U.S. Flag, 11 September, Memorial
Image credit: Everett Police Department/Thomas E. Franklin/The Record/AP/NYT.

In 2004, the yacht’s owner said they recognized that it was not the right flag. However, authorities couldn’t tell what happened with the real one. Nobody knew if it had been stolen or misplaced. Little could the authorities imagine, that the flag was around 2400 miles away in Everett, Washington.

The mystery of the flag was even reflected in a CNN film called “the Flag,” released in 2013. It was directed and written by Petra Epperlein and her husband, Michael Tucker.

It all changed in November 2014, when a man who identified himself as “Brian” showed up at a fire station with the flag. According to the Everett Police Detective, Mike Atwood, and his colleague, Jim Massingale, the man gave it back because he had seen a recently published History Chanel documentary about the mystery of the flag.

Apparently, he received it during 2007 Veterans Day from an unknown man who worked at the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration and that man got it from an unidentified widow of one of the 343 9/11 firefighters who died on that disgraceful day.

But “Brian” vanished just like the flag did 15 years ago and Everett detectives are currently looking for him.  The detectives checked the surveillance video and they released a sketch of “Brian” in local newspapers expecting someone might identify the mysterious man in order to obtain more information about the flag. But nothing new has been found.

Forensic Tests confirm the authenticity of the flag 

The flag was deeply analyzed by the Washington State Patrol Laboratory. Forensic scientist William Schneck, analyzed photos, the fibers of the flag, and compared the flag’s dust particles with samples of dust taken from a New York City fire truck at Ground Zero 15 years ago.

It all matched. According to the laboratory, both the flag and its accompanying ropes were definitely exposed to dust from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

“We wanted to be thorough and complete and be able to have the investigation stand independently,” said Everett Detective Jim Massingale, a retired Army Ranger. “We knew it would be scrutinized”, he added.

A retired New York Police Department officer who is currently working at the Everett Police Department held the flag up to his face, before it was packaged to New York, and as he smelled it said to detective Michael Atwood: “That’s the smell that I remember from that day”.

The yacht’s owners were consulted to compare the flag’s size and material. They were so surprised they believed it was a joke but they donated it to the museum.

The flag has been exhibited in a glass case at the 9/11 Museum, which is built where the Twin Towers once stood. “The flag’s absence just felt like a hole in the history of this site,” said Joe Daniels. A new documentary about the flag will air on History Chanel on Sunday.

Source: Fox 8 Cleveland