FREEPORT — A little rain Tuesday morning wasn’t enough to deter the Freeport Flag Ladies from standing on their customary curb at Main and School streets, holding their flags and umbrellas high, waving at drivers who passed by. In a few months, the custom will come to an end.

It was a typical Tuesday morning for Elaine Greene, JoAnn Miller, Carmen Footer and anyone else who has decided to join them over the past 18 years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. They have stood here, clad in their red-white-and-blue garb, braving snowstorms, rain, sleet, oppressive heat from 8 to 9 a.m. For the past four years they have been joined each Tuesday by Darlene Jolly, who wonders why she never did it sooner. Greene’s sister, Amy Gove, also joins them on occasion.

There are only a few of these mornings left for the Freeport Flag Ladies, who after more than 900 Tuesday mornings on the hill will “retire” Sept. 11.

“Age wins, all the time,” said Greene, who is the youngest of the trio at 74.

When Greene watched the second plane hit the World Trade Center in 2001, she knew thousands of Americans were dying. Holding a candle didn’t feel like enough, she said, and “in the deepest of prayer I asked for something I could do.”

She remembered a flag behind the house that had been forgotten over time, but by instinct went to grab it on her way to Main Street. She held back at first, not sure if it would be appropriate to wave, but eventually raised it and was met with honks and cheers from passersby. In that moment, she thought, “I think my prayer was just answered,” she said. She vowed to stand there every Tuesday for one year. Miller and Footer agreed to stand with her, and they have never missed one.

“It’s been a long year,” Footer said, laughing.

Their mission, they say, is not political – simply American.

“It helped a lot of people knowing that we cared,” Footer said.

“The one thing other people need to see is that others care,” Greene agreed. “We fight no matter what the weather is like.”

For her and the others, the “why,” why they have braved sub-zero temperatures, a heavy wet flag, even a dislocated shoulder for 17 years past their original goal, is an easy question to answer.

“Have you ever attended the funeral of someone who gave their life for this country?” she asked. “There are things you can do without screaming, yelling. You’re not doing this because it’s easy or you’re getting paid. How many people lay life, limb and sanity down before us? It’s the least we could do for the freedoms we’ve had all our lives,” she said.

“Freedom is only ever one generation away from being lost,” she said.

Greene, Footer, 77, and Miller, 83, remember the country’s mistreatment of Vietnam veterans as they returned home, and want to make sure that does not happen again. For years, they went to Bangor International Airport to give soldiers a proper send-off, many of whom they saw time and time again as they returned for multiple tours, others whom they saw only the once.

Each time they made just as much of an effort to make sure the men and women leaving knew they were valued, handing out “lucky pennies” for them to take with them, items that Greene has since found out are in dozens, if not hundreds of soldiers’ memento boxes.

“Any genuine thing of love that you do will touch someone,” she said.

She remembered a young man who “didn’t look a day over 18” was sitting by himself, afraid. She went to talk to him, and always carrying little odds and ends around in her pocket, found a small carved wooden cross for him to take. She gave him a hug and a kiss “like his mother would have if she were there,” she said, and helped send him off.

A few months later, the boy’s father called her. His son had died, he said, but had called him not long before to say he was no longer in a dark place, knowing now that there were people who cared, people he was fighting for.

“Nobody can buy those moments,” Greene said, tearing up. “This is our country. We’re proud because (the soldiers) make us proud.”

The years have not been without their hardships. In 2016, the Freeport Flag Ladies announced they were retiring their annual Sept. 11 event, but would continue their Tuesday tradition. The announcement came just a few months after a judge denied a protective order filed against James Roux, who they said had harassed them and interrupted a speaker during the previous year’s 9/11 event.

Roux, whose father was on one of the planes that flew into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, said he felt his father’s death was being used to promote a political ideology antithetical to his own, and denied harassing the women.

Greene said she felt responsible, though, and decided to cancel the event for safety reasons.

They have been the subject of local and national news stories, even a documentary film. During the summers it isn’t unusual to see scouts, shoppers, schoolchildren and others lined up along Main Street on a Tuesday morning, waving their flags.

To see that is humbling, Greene said, especially the children, who she feels are not taught enough about 9/11, what it means, and why it is important to have respect for our freedoms and the people who fought for them. She believes students should have to watch real footage from D-Day, 9/11, Afghanistan and the Vietnam War before graduating from high school.

“Children should see the real stuff, not a story someone wrote about it,” she said, “so they understand the magnitude.”

The Freeport Flag Ladies will no longer be a visible reminder of the the flag and what it stands for.

“They’re going to be missed, but they’re due their retirement after 18 years,” said Brunswick Town Councilor David Watson, a member of the Brunswick American Legion Post 20. “They’re important to the community and the state. In a time of need, in a time of strife and grief, what they did, the actions they took were healing for many people.

“They are a group of ladies that in a time of need, stood up and served their country and community like any soldier,” he said, calling them an “emblem of Americanism.”

“It’s an honor to know them and have worked with them,” he added.

Though they know it’s time, retiring from something that has meant much to the community and themselves won’t be easy.

“I suspect it’ll be one of the hardest days of my life,” Greene said, “like burying something.”

“Just thinking about it is hard,” Footer agreed.

There are 13 more Tuesday mornings ahead of them, but after that, they still plan to participate in Honor Flights, Wreaths Across America and other patriotic events.

“There will still be Flag Ladies. They just won’t be on the hill,” Gove said.

[email protected]


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.