On the afternoon of Dec. 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously declared the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor “a date which will live in infamy.”
“Hell broke loose” earlier that morning, said retired Marine Corps Sgt. Major Harold G. Overstreet, describing the scene in Pearl Harbor. “Our world went upside down.”
“You know, we have a couple of days like that,” Overstreet said, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.
Overstreet, who was the 12th sergeant major of the Marine Corps, was speaking at the 2nd annual Patriot Day Celebration in the Sam A. Twiford Veterans Park at Twiford Funeral Home on Wednesday. At least 200 residents turned out to pay tribute to the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks.
The ceremony also featured the posting of a national flag that once flew over ground zero in New York City.
Overstreet stressed the importance of ensuring future generations learn of the Sept. 11 attacks, as well as Pearl Harbor, and other significant moments in the nation’s history.
“How do we pass that along to the generations who come behind us?” he asked.
He turned to David Twiford, owner of Twiford Funeral Home, and thanked him for holding the Patriot Day Celebration. The hour-long service was a teachable moment to the younger members in the audience, Overstreet said.
Michael Nugent, of the Virginia chapter of the Patriot Guard Riders, provided a brief history of the national flag that was hoisted during the celebration. The Virginia chapter is the official caretaker of the flag and a marble cross that accompanies it. The flag, which is known as the Ground Zero Flag, and the marble cross form what are referred to as the Ground Zero Flag Team.
Wednesday’s celebration marked the first time the Ground Zero Flag has flown at an official ceremony in North Carolina, Nugent told the audience.
The flag should not be confused with another national flag that was captured in an iconic photo. That flag, known as the 9/11 Flag, features firemen raising the flag over the ground zero rubble and is now part of the 9/11 Memorial Museum.
However, the Ground Zero Flag has an interesting past, too.
“This flag has a history of its own,” Nugent said.
According to Nugent, the flag was donated to the Port Authority Police Department in New York City in the days following 9/11. A brief dedication service was held before the flag was posted above the fallen World Trade Center towers, where it remained for about a month.
“It flew proudly for those who had fallen,” said Nugent, who is a retired Navy boatswain’s mate.
Since 9/11, the flag has been raised around the world. One notable location included over the spider hole where, in December 2003, U.S. military forces discovered former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein hiding, Nugent said.
The flag also has flown aboard the USS Harry Truman aircraft carrier and the USS John Warner nuclear attack submarine. The flag has flown with the Navy’s Blue Angels and the Canadian Snowbirds aerobatics teams. It also has flown over countless police and fire stations around the country, Nugent said.
“Today we will continue that legacy and never forget,” he said.
On hand to assist in raising the flag were Brandon Wilson and Karen Hale.
Wilson, who lives in Chesapeake, Va., lost his uncle in the attack on New York City. Hale, who lives in Elizabeth City, lost a cousin when hijackers flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m.
Wilson’s uncle, Andre Fletcher, was a firefighter assigned to Rescue 5 of the New York City Fire Department. Fletcher, while working to rescue people, died when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed.
During the posting of the colors, Wilson presented the flag to Pasquotank Sheriff Tommy Wooten, who assisted in raising the flag to half staff. Hale placed the small marble cross at the foot of the flag staff.
The celebration also included a wreath-laying ceremony. Laying a wreath in memory of the 343 fallen firefighters and first responders was Jerry Newell, Pasquotank-Camden Emergency Medical Services director. Retired Master Gunnery Sgt. Michael Copeland placed a wreath in honor of the 55 military personnel deaths. The third wreath was placed by Wooten in honor of the 72 fallen law enforcement officers.
State Sen. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, also spoke briefly at Wednesday’s event. He said people have a duty to express their appreciation for veterans, members of the armed forces and to first responders. The senator concluded his remarks by reading aloud President George W. Bush’s proclamation from 2002, declaring Sept. 11 as Patriot Day.