The Patriot Flag flew high Thursday in Bartlett as veterans, police officers, boy scouts and residents from all over the suburbs gathered at Apple Orchard Park to honor the armed forces and first responders to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Bartlett was just the latest stop for the Patriot Flag -- a 56-foot long, 75-pound American flag -- as it tours all 50 states in 50 weeks on its way to New York City on Sept. 11 for the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
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Michael Falese, fire chief for the Bartlett Fire Department, said the event was not only important for police officers and firefighters, but for the whole community to take part in a little history and remember those who have lost their lives as a result of 9/11.
"We have older veterans here who get real emotional because of this and young kids who don't really know what it's all about," Falese said. "But everyone here will be able to say they were here to see this flag be raised and I just think it's phenomenal."
Before the ceremony to raise the flag began, crowds of people lined up to sign a trimming of the flag that had ripped off during its many travels, as well as a guest book. Attendees were also able to touch and take pictures of a piece of the World Trade Center that was on display.
"I got a little choked up when I saw that piece of mangled steel over there," said Dino Conte, a Boy Scouts troop leader.
As the ceremony started, bagpipes led a march of veterans, police officers and firefighters to the fire truck where the flag would be raised. One of those veterans was John Dwyer, owner of Lucky Jacks and Papa Pacino's in Bartlett.
The former Marine said he would not have missed the event for anything and that is was an honor and privilege to help carry and raise the Patriot Flag.
"There was nothing that was going to stop me from being here once I got the call," Dwyer said. "The flag is everything."
The crowd fell completely silent as the massive flag began its ascent up the ladder of the fire truck, with the only sounds coming from airplanes overhead and little-leaguers playing America's pastime on the baseball fields around the park.
The crowd broke into applause as the flag neared the top, and became silent again when it went to half-mast as the bagpipes played "Amazing Grace." Troops of Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts ended the ceremony by leading the Pledge of Allegiance.
"Something as significant as this ties the country together," said AJ Burkart, a 20-year-old scout from Wayne. "Being a stop on this flag's journey is really an honor."
And though some of the scouts were too young to understand the significance of 9/11, many young ones have already started to understand the lasting impact.
Benjamin Nemeth, a 14-year-old scout from Wayne, was only in preschool at the time of the 9/11 attacks. As he has grown older, he said he has gained a true understanding of the devastation and history of that day.
"I'm never going to forget being here with this flag and doing the Pledge of Allegiance," he said. "It's special to be a part of."
When the ceremony came to an end, many people gathered with each other to sign the flag and guest book or thank the service members, police officers and firefighters in attendance. Scouts took pictures with veterans and veterans saluted each other in a display of unity that volunteer firefighter Phil Kraft said is brought out by the American flag.
"I think this is a great experience and it shows a lot of people still care about this country," Kraft said. "It's becoming more apparent people are starting to stand together again."