New Book by Shirley Dreifus Chronicles Mystery of 9/11 Flag

  • November 17, 2021
Three firefighters raise an American flag over rubble at Ground Zero

Thomas E. Franklin, The Record (Bergen Co. NJ), AP Photo.

At roughly 5 p.m. on September 11, 2001, three firefighters raised an American flag above the smoldering ruins at Ground Zero. The act was caught on film by photographer Thomas E. Franklin of the Record (Bergen County, NJ). It quickly made its way around the globe and became one of the most iconic images of the day, signifying the country's strength and resilience. 

The flag those firefighters raised came from a yacht owned by Shirley Dreifus and her late husband Spiros Kopelakis, which had been docked at the World Financial Center. Just hours after the famed photo was taken, the flag vanished. Thirteen years and one History Channel documentary later, "the 9/11 Flag" was recovered.

Dreifus writes about the mystery and the long search for answers in her new book, "The 9/11 Flag: Borrowed, Stolen, Recovered." She'll join us in person for a special book signing at the Museum tomorrow - November 18 - from 12-3 p.m. Here, she answers a few questions about writing the book and the incredible story that inspired it. 

Tell us about your personal experience on 9/11.
I am always an early riser. For the first time, that day, I overslept. I wasn’t in my office in the WTC. I survived when so many didn’t. We lived near the WTC. My husband saw the plane strike the building from our apartment. He never really recovered from that sight.

That day spawned so many stories - what about this one struck such a nerve with you?
The flag came from our yacht, the Star of America, docked near the WTC. The firefighters hoisting of the flag at Ground Zero became a symbol of hope and defiance during a day of unspeakable horror. Their act meant everything to us personally, as it did to so many in the world.

Book cover shows American flag in white and glass museum display case

What can you tell us about the process of writing the book?
My friend encouraged me to author the book. She said it is an important, unknown part of history. If I died, it would never be known. I wrote the book so people could learn the flag’s real history. I realize there are things that may never be known about the flag’s substitution.

Summarize the story for us.
Few know that the flag the firefighters hoisted with such care on 9/11 disappeared almost immediately afterwards. A substitute flag made the worldwide journey. The real flag was located thirteen years later on the other side of the Continent. A History Channel program led to its discovery. My husband and I had never stopped looking for “America’s Flag.” We wanted this treasured icon in a museum available for the public to view.

Why is it important that people know what happened with the flag and how it ties in to the impact and lessons of 9/11? 
September 11 brought our country together. We worked as one to overcome terrorism. It didn’t matter what your background or political party was. We united to overcome terrorism and help each other recover from that day of destruction.

Is there anything you want to make sure people know about this story or the events of 9/11 overall? 
It is time to end the divisiveness in America. We need to become the country of 9/11 again, one in which we respect each other, no matter our personal beliefs. It is time to live the lesson we learned on 9/11: only by working as one will we survive.

By 9/11 Memorial Staff

The 9/11 Flag: Borrowed, Stolen, Recovered is also available online at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum store

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