By Irish America Staff
April / May 2002
The image of firefighters Dan McWilliams, George Johnson and Billy Eisengrein raising the tattered Stars and Stripes on September 11 became a symbol of hope for Americans on their darkest day. The three firefighters had spent the day at Ground Zero searching for survivors among the mammoth piles of rubble and in late afternoon were told to evacuate due to imminent collapse of WTC Building Seven. As McWilliams was leaving the area, he saw a flag on a yacht that was docked nearby. He took the flag and its pole and made his way back to the evacuation area. On the way he met his friends Johnson and Eisengrein, who helped him raise it. “Everybody just needed a shot in the arm,” McWilliams said afterwards. The moment was captured by Thomas E. Franklin of The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) whose eye was caught by the flash of red, white and blue among the gray. The three firefighters were unaware that they were being photographed. Paramedic Roger Smyth, whose story is also covered in this issue, also recognized the iconic significance of the action of the three men. He took the photograph featured above.
The flag flew at Ground Zero for several days before it was brought to the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the Middle East where it was flown at the highest mast. It will be returned to the New York Fire Department, which also plans to install an 18-foot-high bronze statue of firefighters raising a flag as a memorial at FDNY headquarters. ♦