Organization pushes for flag to become nation’s symbol for 9/11

21 years ago, as soon as the day after September 11th, 2001, Richard Melito felt compelled to honor the lives lost in the worst attack on American soil in this
Published: Sep. 6, 2022 at 8:41 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Twenty-one years ago, the day after Sept. 11th, 2001, Richard Melito felt compelled to honor the lives lost in the worst attack on American soil in this nation’s history. During that uncertain time, Melito says he put his pen to a paper inside his Henrico Restaurant and started sketching.

“And so, that’s how it all started, so we don’t forget,” Melito said. “On a napkin, I designed a flag that would be put in my restaurant so that when people came in and looked up, they would say, ‘what is that,’ and I would say, ‘it’s how I remember 9/11.’″

And it’s how Melito says he wants others to remember it too. In the weeks that followed, the design would eventually evolve into what is now the freedom flag with an organization its name established in 2002.

After the flag’s inception in 2001, the Freedom Flag Foundation worked for years pushing for the flag to be used as a tool to teach people who are too young to remember or were not yet born what happened on 9/11 in a way that is easy to understand.

Melito says he designed the flag with 10 key points in mind:

The five white bars represent the attack on the Pentagon, and the two broad red stripes represent the twin towers. The top and bottom red stripes represent those who perished at the Pentagon, the crew on Flight 77, and the lives lost during the United Airlines Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.

The three white stripes represent the rescue workers, firefighters and police officers who worked tirelessly during and after 9/11. The white star represents all who have died in the name of freedom, while the blue background represents Americans united in freedom.

“It tells a real simple story,” Melito said.

“The symbol that Richard Melito drew had patriotic colors, it had the simplicity that it could resonate with all ages, and it’s just a symbol that has endured,” the foundation’s president John Riley said.

Riley says in 2018, the Virginia General Assembly unanimously adopted the flag to become the official symbol of remembrance for 9/11 in the commonwealth, the first state in the country to take such a step.

“The question became what will happen if we go out of state?” Riley asked.

In August, the foundation got that answer. After years of effort from the foundation pushing the message of the symbol across the country, Oklahoma’s governor also adopted the symbol as its flag of remembrance, which will be flown beginning Friday through Sunday commemoration events.

The foundation also announced that Delaware is also adopting the symbol this week for the 21st anniversary of 9/11.

“Now, 20 years later, we’re seeing this movement come to fruition with the Freedom Flag being adopted in other states.

Additional states that have filed legislation include Kentucky and Minnesota, with Maryland, Alabama, California, Georgia and Ohio also expressing interest.

“To go to the middle of the country, to someplace like Oklahoma thousands of miles away and to see it, see the same reception 21 years later now, and be embraced just like it is in Virginia is proof of concept. And we believe it will eventually progress to the national symbol of remembrance,” Riley said.

Another essential element of the Freedom Flag Foundation’s effort to continue pushing for the Freedom Flag to be the national symbol for 9/11 is the foundation’s World Trade Center Steel Education Program.

The program is currently being shared with over 30 schools and partners across the country, including new school partners in Dalton, Georgia, Streetsboro, Ohio, and the Washington State School for the Blind, along with the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

“It’s an easy way to teach something so serious that everyone can understand, and therefore, eliminate a problem that we had by how do we remember. We don’t need to forget,” Melito said.

The foundation wants all Virginians and people to fly this flag leading up to the 21st anniversary of 9/11 Sunday. If you want to obtain a flag, the foundation says there is still time to receive one before Sunday by going to its website.