HELENA - Montanans ages 9 months to older than 90 years 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 end at the 10th anniversary commemoration of Sept. 11, 2001, at ground zero and a permanent spot in the yet-to-be-built National 9/11 Museum.
People from around the state 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, age 9 months, and his 3-year-old sister, Lily. Their father, John, is serving with the Montana National Guard 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 traveled the country helping communities in need as a way of thanking the nation for the outpouring of support after 9/11.
Speaking for the group, Denny Deters said the flag was on a construction scaffolding near the World Trade Center's twin towers when the airplanes hit in 2001, 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 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 after their contribution to history.
"It's an amazing experience," said Ecko Edwards, who works in the state auditor's office and served three tours in Saudi Arabia in the U.S. 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.
Reporter Sanjay Talwani can be reached at (406) 447-4086 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.