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National 9/11 flag stops in Helena

People pack the Capitol Rotunda in Helena on Thursday to view the National 9/11 Flag. The New York Says Thank You Foundation is taking the flag on a journey across America where local service heroes stitch the flag using pieces of fabric from flags destined for retirement in each state.

DYLAN BROWN/Independent Record

HELENA — Montanans aged 9 months to over 90 stitched pieces of history Thursday as the National 9/11 Flag made a stop in the state Capitol, part of a 50-state tour that will take it to the 10th anniversary commemoration of 9/11 at Ground Zero and a permanent spot in the yet-to-be-built National 9/11 Museum.

People from around the state, including several nominated by others as American heroes, took turns taking a needle to the flag, sewing a flag from Montana, otherwise slated for retirement, into the 20-by-30-foot flag damaged in the 2001 terror attacks and salvaged by Ground Zero workers. When complete, the flag will have been restored with pieces of flags from all 50 states, symbolizing the unity and resiliency of the American people, organizers say.

Among the stitchers were Brandon Mordecai, 9 months, and his 3-year-old sister, Lily. Their father, John, is in the Montana National Guard and serving in Iraq.

"It's just so hard, when they're little, to convey what their dad's doing and why he's doing it," said their mother, Jennilee Mordecai, who came from Great Falls for the event. Several other family members of the soldiers in Company E of the 163rd Infantry Regimen also sewed.

A crowd of about 200 people, overflowed from the Capitol Rotunda for the ceremony, which included "Amazing Grace" on the bagpipes, the National Anthem sung by the Helena Symphony Chorale, a Native American honor song by the Togendowangan Society and scores of tearful eyes.

The tour is sponsored by New York Says Thank You, a group that has travelled the country helping communities in need as a way of thanking the nation for the outpouring of support after 9/11.

Denny Deters, speaking for the group, said the flag was on a construction scaffolding near the Twin Towers when the airplanes hit, and it couldn't be removed for several weeks. In tatters, it was stored and forgotten until a few years ago.

Since it began its tour, the flag has been stitched by soldiers at Fort Hood who survived the November 2009 massacre there, and by descendants of Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta. It flew at the funeral of Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old girl born on Sept. 11 and killed by a bullet intended for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tuscon, Ariz., in January. It even has a piece of a flag that flew at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., on the night of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.

Many of the people stitching were almost speechless following their contribution to history.

"It's an amazing experience," said Ecko Edwards, who works in the state auditors office and served three tours in Saudi Arabia in the Air Force. "I don't know how to put it in the words."

Helen Dawson, 92, a World War II Navy veteran and longtime volunteer and advocate for veterans, was among those who, like Lt. Gov John Bohlinger, remembered an earlier event analogous to 9/11 — the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. Even she felt nervous stitching the new piece of history.

"It's exciting, absolutely," she said.