On September 11th our lives were changed forever. In answer to a prayer by Elaine to be shown a way to be of service we began a mission to commemorate the lives of the heroes of 9-11 and those who perished. Each Tuesday morning we stand on Main Street in Freeport wearing our country's colors and waving the American flag. We have held our ground in rain, sleet and snow with temperatures so cold that our fingers and toes were numb and with the summer sun beating down on us.
When our soldiers entered Afghanistan and Iraq to bring freedom and democracy there while also defending our own safety and liberty our original mission expanded to stand in support of our troops. Every day during the declared Iraq war we were on the hill without fail. All of the patriotic holidays found us decked out in red, white and blue either waving the flag on the hill or participating in a parade.
As the Freeport Flag Ladies we make the long drive to Bangor to join the Maine Troop Greeters at Bangor International Airport and to Pease International in New Hampshire to meet the troop flights whenever possible. Depending upon weather and construction it takes between two and three hours each way. We have greeted thousands of soldiers from all over this great nation who were being deployed or returning home after long deployments.
Untold thousands of pictures have been taken of the soldiers and put on the web site for their families. We make a special effort to be there for as many of the outbound troops as possible since we have learned that these pictures are so treasured by their families. Each of the soldiers that we speak with and photograph is given a small gift and the address of the web site. Once back home many hours are spent on the computer downloading the pictures, cropping and sharpening them putting them into special folders and then into Freeway express and on the web. Additional hours are spent answering emails and emailing photographs to the soldiers and their families. When contacted by Family Readiness groups we put all the photos from a given flight onto a CD for them to make available to their members. Our hearts are always warmed by the many grateful letters we receive telling us that a photo is being used as a screen saver, copied to hang on a child's wall or added to a scrapbook.
Packages are mailed out almost every week and wherever we go we are always on the lookout for a gift that might bring a smile to the face of a soldier. In addition to the usual snack food we try to find interesting toys, games, magazines and food that is tasty and nutritious. In addition to the packages, cards and letters go out.
Special packages have been sent out to the Combat Support Hospitals. Many large boxes of neck pillows to make transport of wounded soldiers from Iraq or Afghanistan to Germany more comfortable are continuing to be sent along with shorts, flip flops and shirts. For the staff and less seriously wounded we send goodies, puzzle books and toys.
Everything is done from out-of-pocket and an occasional donation so a lot of time is spent in raising money. Every year we do several yard sales. Elaine has raised "Flowers for Freedom" and sold them in the spring and summer. We have cancelled cable TV and have not taken a vacation since 9-11-2001 using those funds to help support the mission.
On the first anniversary of 9-11 Elaine Organized a 9-11 Tribute that attracted over a thousand people and was covered on CNN, USA Today and on television and newspapers around the country.
On the 2nd Anniversary we held the Freeport Freedom Festival. All branches of the military participated. The Lady Liberty Craft Show, Uncle Sam's Flea Market and the Victory Garden Farmer's Market attracted crowds. The Navy Show Band and the Maine Army National Guard Band gave concerts. Each 9-11 Anniversary was commemorated in a special way.
Prior to the 10th Anniversary we worked with the Freeport Masons to arrange movement of a large piece of steel from the WTC. There was an honor escort into Freeport and a moving event for its arrival. Over the next few weeks a monument was constructed. For an entire year a 3-Day 9-11 Commemorative was organized with the help of a 9-11 Committee. It included a candlelight vigil for Maine's fallen Iraqi and Afghanistan soldiers, many musical events, a parade honoring our First Responders, the dedication of the 9-11 monument and culminated with a Remembrance Concert and Patriotic Laser Show.
We have been involved with the Maine Army National Guard and been present to cheer them on whenever they are deployed and when they return. Whenever possible we are present at the Freedom Salutes to add our gratitude for their service. Joining Loretta Solak of Operation Yellow Ribbon we have helped raise money for the National Guard families.
Several flags have been presented to us that we treasure greatly. Senator Olympia Snowe had a flag flown over the Capital for each of us and Senator Collins had flags flown over the Pentagon, Ground Zero and Shanksville, PA. Two were received as part of the Americanism Award presented by Donald Simoneau of the Maine Chapter of the American Legion. Many flags have been sent to us that were flown in missions: one from Iraq by the 54th Medical Company, one from Afghanistan by Fast Force Mountain Company and one that was flown over Guantanamo Bay by the 169th Military Police. This past year the 94th Maintenance Company sent us a flag to take to the hill with us. Most recently a framed flag was presented to us from the 240th Engineering Company that was flown in the face of the enemy on September 11, 2007. LTC David Deuhring came to stand with us on the Hill and make the presentation. The local news station was there to record the event.
During the years we have been privileged to take part in many events involving 9-11 and the support of our troops. We were the Grand Marshals of Freeport's 4th of July, Sparkle parades, marched in Yarmouth's Parade of Heroes and the Portland Parade of Patriots. We march in the Veteran's Day and Memorial Day parades.
During a speech made during a trip to Maine The Flag Ladies were acknowledged by President Bush.
We have been especially honored with a Proclamation by the State of Maine and been made lifetime honorary members of Waves International and the Maine Military Historical Society.
Our mission is non-political. It is solely an act of love, gratitude and appreciation for the great sacrifices the men and women of the military have given to this nation throughout the ages. We honor and salute the heroes of the first line of defense at home - our fire, police and rescue workers as well as the men and women in the military.
We applaud the diversity of this country and we are proud to call ourselves Americans.