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9-11 flag flies over Tucson to honor Jan. 8 victims

The early morning sun glowed through the thinning material of the National 9-11 Flag as it was raised high above the parking lot of the Safeway store where six were killed and 13 wounded in a shooting rampage six months ago.

A few dozen visitors watched as police officers from New York and Arizona joined to hang the flag to "restore, empower and inspire" those affected by the Jan. 8 shooting at La Toscana Village shopping center, 7090 N. Oracle Road.

An honor guard of local police and fire agencies and firefighters from the New York Fire Department unfolded the flag as it was hoisted up by a NWFD ladder truck.

A small crowd stood for a moment of silence to honor the anniversary of the Jan. 8 shooting that authorities charge was an assassination attempt on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Among the crowd were retired U.S. Army National Guard Col. Bill Badger, who helped restrain the accused shooter, Jared Loughner, on Jan. 8.; and Giffords staffers Mark Kimble and Pam Simon. Simon was seriously wounded in the attack.

"It was awfully jarring to drive into that parking lot - to see yellow (police) tape and the fire trucks. It looked an awful lot like it did on Jan. 8," said Kimble, who was standing near Giffords when she was shot.

"I thought it was appropriate. It was a moving event," he said after the ceremony.

"The six-month anniversary is not too significant. All of us who worked with Gabe (Zimmerman, who was killed in the shooting) live it every day." Kimble said.

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"It's a work day and Gabe still isn't there and Gabby isn't back yet," he said.

"The New York firefighters are amazing," he said. "They explained the significance of the flag" and the restoration effort.

Caring for the flag was an honor guard from the Tucson Police Department, Tucson Fire Department, Northwest Fire District, Rural Metro/Mountain Vista Fire Department, the Pima County Sheriff's Department, Oro Valley Police Department, Southwest Ambulance and Golder Ranch Fire District, in addition to firefighters and policemen from New York.

"It was pretty emotional," said the vice-commander of the Golder Ranch honor guard, Scott Ellis.

"Knowing all the history of what's gone into that flag - all the tragedies since 9-11 have become part of that flag," he said.

"It's inspirational know what went into repairing" the banner, Ellis said. "People all over the U.S. have had a hand in restoring it to its former glory."

It was the flag's second visit to Tucson. Earlier this year, it flew at the funeral of Jan. 8 victim Christina-Taylor Green, who was born the day the banner was nearly destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack.

After the ceremony at the Safeway, the banner made a brief stop at Green Field, a baseball field named after the slain nine-year-old, where family and friends of those affected by the Jan. 8 shooting could have a private moment with the flag.

"It gave them a chance to touch hands to the flag," Ellis said.

Later, visitors lined up in the University of Arizona's Centennial Hall to have a chance to sew a stitch on a section of the flag and help restore it to it's original 13-stripe design. 

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"I didn't even know this was going on today I was just going to buy some milk at Safeway," said community member Richard Brennan, who watched the morning flag raising.

"It is really great to see they have the flag here. I remember the morning of the shooting and I was actually on my way to Safeway when a friend called me and told me not to come."

NYPD Officer Jimmy Sands, who is associated with the New York Thank You Foundation, explained the mission behind traveling to all 50 states with the flag.

Although no one can bring back the people that were lost, by repairing the flag that was tattered in the attack on the World Trade Center, Sands hopes to bring people together and let them play their own part in helping to rebuild downtown Manhattan.

"A piece of the flag that President Lincoln was laid on when he was shot was stitched onto this flag," Sands said.

"Seven years later some ladies that were survivors of the Greensburg, Kansas tornado sewed on some of the smaller flags to patch the holes" in the flag, Sands said.

At Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd., the flag was carefully spread across a platform on the stage. It was surrounded by people in two lines who volunteered to make a stitch and contribute to the flag's restoration.

"It's not every day that you get to be a part of something like this," said Renee Cota.

"I just felt that I had to come," said Shayne Spencer. "I mean, despite all of the infamous historical events associated with this I felt as though I needed to add my part."  

The New York Says Thank You Foundation, which has toured the flag through all 50 states, has found local service heroes across the country to help stitch up the 20-by-30 foot banner.

Patsy "Pat" Joy, 911 Dispatch Manager for the Pima County Sheriff's Department, sewed a patch with blue thread onto the flag this afternoon. 

Joy, who has served in that position 21 years, was nominated to help stitch the 9-11 flag because of her devotion to serving others, said Deputy Dawn Barkman, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Department.

The flag has been stitched by soldiers and schoolchildren who survived the shooting at Ft. Hood, Texas, by World War II veterans on the deck of the USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor, by the family of Martin Luther King Jr., and by thousands of everyday service heroes nationwide, the New York Says Thank You Foundation's website said.

When complete, The National 9-11 Flag will become a part of the permanent collection of the National September 11 Memorial Museum being built at the World Trade Center.

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