Firemen raising flag becomes enduring image from Sept. 11

Photographer captures unforgettable moment following attacks on America

Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2001

NEWARK, N.J. -- The photo has appeared on T-shirts, buttons and Christmas ornaments. It hangs at firehouses across the nation. A mural of it was painted on the walls of a Louisiana prison. And copies were left as a calling card in Afghanistan by U.S. commandos.

The photo of three firefighters raising a flag amid the ruins of the World Trade Center has become one of the most powerful images of the disaster.

Many consider it this century's Iwo Jima image, recalling the famous 1945 photograph of six American fighting men struggling to raise the flag on Mount Suribachi during World War II.

The picture was taken by 35-year-old newspaper photographer Tom Franklin of The Record of Hackensack, who said he instantly saw the similarities as he looked through his lens.

''I knew by Sept. 13 this was going to be a really popular picture,'' said Franklin, who has received thousands of e-mails from people detailing how the photo has touched them. ''They said it made their day and lifted their spirits at a time of real despair.''

About 30,000 people have asked the newspaper for a copy, and thousands more are using it -- without permission -- for all sorts of purposes.

The photo has been downloaded, photocopied, airbrushed, screen-printed, sketched and painted in homes and businesses across the country.

Firehouses have copies taped up. Firefighters in Phoenix re-enacted the image before Game One of the World Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and the New York Yankees.

The photo is taped to the wall at Attitude, a hair salon in Austin, Texas. A bartender at Sparky's Sports Bar & Grill in Sparks, Nev., wears a T-shirt with the photo most nights. The Daily Ardmoreite in Ardmore, Okla., uses the photo every day on its front page as a graphic to accompany the top terrorism story.

Authorities allowed an inmate to paint a mural of it on the walls of the Orleans Parish Prison in New Orleans.

In Afghanistan, Army Rangers and other special operations troops had it taped to their backpacks for inspiration.

David Gittings, a sewer inspector in Louisville, Ky., cut the photo out of a newspaper and has it framed on a living room wall. ''That was a signal to bring everybody together,'' he said. ''You can kick us, you can hit us, but we're not down.''

The image has been named photo of the year by both the Associated Press Managing Editors Association and Editor & Publisher magazine.

''It was a moment in an absolutely tragic, horrible day that seemed to rise above everything to symbolize the cooperation and spirit of New York, the country and the people at ground zero,'' said Frank Scandale, editor of The Record. ''It gave people a sliver of hope in the most horrible, disastrous day any one of this generation can remember.''

The newspaper has stopped taking requests for copies. At first, it made copies for free but asked for a donation to the newspaper's disaster relief fund. It has taken in about $400,000 in donations for the photo.

The newspaper is now selling posters of the photo, along with other pictures from the week of the attacks.

Most of that revenue will go to the disaster fund, and to charities specified by the three firefighters in the photo: Dan McWilliams and George Johnson from Ladder 157 in Brooklyn, and Billy Eisengrein of Rescue 2 in Staten Island.

The Record said it is keeping a small portion of revenue to help offset some of its costs in distributing the photo, and is also trying to track down those who are violating the newspaper's copyright by using the image for unauthorized commercial purposes.

McWilliams found the flag on a yacht docked near the trade center and carried it back to the rubble, where he and his co-workers hoisted it.

The firefighters declined to comment for this story, but McWilliams told The Record on Sept. 12: ''Everybody just needed a shot in the arm. Every pair of eyes that saw that flag got a little brighter.''

Franklin, a news photographer with 15 years of experience, cannot escape his creation.

''Thanksgiving weekend, I'm driving to my grandmother's house in Brooklyn and the van in front of me has two bumper stickers with the photo on it,'' he said. ''Then on the way home, we see this two-story mural on a building on the FDR Drive. It's kind of weird.''

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