The commemorative events surrounding this weekend’s 9/11 anniversary marks the end of one mystery: locating the whereabouts of an iconic flag.
And a South Florida TV show host is at the center of that achievement.
Originally a Brooklyn native, History Channel host Brad Meltzer used his platform to help identify the whereabouts of the original flag raised by three firefighters on the site of Ground Zero the morning of 9/11. The flag, captured in a now famous image by photographer Thomas E. Franklin, vanished shortly after it was raised amongst the rubble.
“We all know the image in the photograph and I’ve become obsessed with it for very personal reasons,” said Meltzer. “I knew that image and I needed that image when it aired.”
Metzer’s good friend and neighbor, Michele Heidenberger, was a flight attendant on the plane that struck the Pentagon on 9/11. He says the Ground Zero flag was a symbol of hope — it was a reminder that despite the horrific events that occurred that morning, the country would stand united, with spirits unbroken.
“All flags are symbols. They’re symbols of power, they’re symbols of hope, they’re symbols of us — but this flag is a mirror,” said Meltzer. “We all as a country were kicked in the teeth and then we saw those firefighters, and we saw this flag and we saw what we all needed. We needed that hope.”
When Meltzer discovered the flag was missing he approached the History Channel in hopes of incorporating it into a television show he had recently pitched, “Brad Meltzer’s Lost History.” Inspired by research he had been doing for one of his novels, he said his goal was to feature historical artifacts and ask America for their help to bring them back.
On Oct. 31, 2014, the first episode of “Lost History” aired with what Meltzer refers to as a “modern day version of a wanted poster.” Images of the Ground Zero flag, along with the story of its disappearance were paired with a $10,000 reward for information about its whereabouts.
“Four days after that show aired a former marine walked into a fire station in Washington state, in a place called Everett, Washington and said ‘I saw the show, Lost History and I need to bring this back. It’s the 9/11 flag,’” recalls Meltzer.
Aware of their search for the flag, Everett police immediately contacted Meltzer and the History Channel. Meltzer describes the process as working on “parallel tracks,” with both the Everett Police Department and Meltzer’s specialists handling investigations.
Samples of dust collected from the flag confirmed it had been present on site during 9/11.
“Ground Zero dust is like a finger print because it’s made up of not just broken buildings, but it’s made up of jet fuel and human remains. The only way to recreate 9/11 dust is to recreate 9/11,” explained Meltzer.
To confirm the flag was indeed the Ground Zero flag raised by firefighters in the iconic photo, specialists used eyewitness accounts and high definition photos.
“It came down to the halyard,” said Meltzer, referring to the rope used to raise and lower a flag. “If it was a standard halyard, we’d never be able to prove anything. It had details on it that you never knew existed.”
Meltzer and the History Channel documented the process of identifying the flag. ‘The 9/11 Flag Rise from the Ashes’ airs this Sunday on the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11, at 10:30 p.m.
“I know that when you give them a change that people will always surprise you and when you call for help people will always answer,” said Meltzer. “That’s how this flag was raised, and that’s how this flag was found.”
*Article originally featured on The Palm Beach Post, here.