FREEPORT — The trio known as the Freeport Flag Ladies was one person short Tuesday morning for the first time in years as the group, less one, continued the weekly patriotic tradition begun days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

But several dozen supporters made sure the two women knew they weren’t alone.

About 45 people joined JoAnn Miller and Elaine Greene to wave American flags to passing motorists and, perhaps more importantly, to send a public “get well soon” message to Carmen Footer, the third Freeport Flag Lady, who is recovering from open-heart surgery in a Portland hospital.

“Obviously, over the years we have touched their hearts. Today they have touched ours,” an emotional Greene said after a long string of hugs with other flag wavers on Tuesday.

Miller said that Footer was moved out of the Intensive Care Unit at Maine Medical Center on Tuesday and is recovering at the hospital’s cardiac care unit.

“She is doing a lot better than she was,” Miller said Tuesday night.

Footer, Greene and Miller began the flag-waving tradition in downtown Freeport just a few days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks killed thousands in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. What began as a show of patriotism to a deeply wounded country eventually grew into a public – but nonpolitical, they insist – show of support for members of the U.S. military, both past and present.

The three women, who share a house in Freeport, also attend send-off and welcome-back ceremonies for Maine-based National Guard units, send care packages to deployed service members, periodically greet troops passing through Bangor International Airport, march in parades and participate in community events.

But the weekly tradition is how they earned the moniker Freeport Flag Ladies.

Miller and Greene have been there on Freeport’s Main Street near L.L. Bean’s flagship store every week for more than 12 years. Footer joined them when she could while working and then every week since her retirement six years ago – that is, until undergoing heart surgery last Friday.

When word spread that Footer would miss Tuesday’s observance, supporters of the flag ladies began planning to both fill the void and show their support to the 72-year-old patient.

Among the crowd were Guy and Cheryl Duke of nearby Durham. A retired Navy service member, Guy Duke had been saving a well-worn American flag that was tucked into the security fence surrounding Ground Zero in lower Manhattan immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Duke and his Navy unit were helping provide security at the site when one of the people overseeing the scene said they were going to have to remove the mementos left on the fence. The woman gave Duke the flag, which is inscribed with countless messages, including one from a woman who didn’t make it to work in the World Trade Center that day and was mourning her colleagues.

Duke brings out the flag for special events, including the occasions when the couple joins the flag ladies. When they heard Footer couldn’t make it on Tuesday, the Dukes decided to once again join Greene and Miller.

“You don’t see a lot of patriotism like this anymore,” Duke said.

Asked why they continue to show up every Tuesday morning – regardless of the weather – Greene suggested they didn’t have a choice.

“We really can’t not do it because it touches so many people,” Greene said.

Miller said one of the greatest joys the group gets is when they see the reaction of veterans to their work. But this time, the supporters who showed up Tuesday will help “bring light back into her eyes,” she said of Footer.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@pressherald.com