EVERETT, Wash. – When the sergeant. Mike Atwood of the Everett Police Department returned home from a shift at the Snohomish County Jail Cemetery on September 11, 2001, the last thing he expected was to be awakened by his family informing him of the attacks on the World Trade Center.
He watched the towers fall on television, speechless, and thought to himself, “The world will never be the same again. On that day, he could never have predicted that in 15 years, he would honor the Americans who responded and fell, ultimately contributing to American history as a whole.
A year after the September 11 attacks, Mike Atwood joined the Everett Police Department, and in 2016, while working for the Major Crime Unit, his partner James Massingale was called to the captain’s office on a case urgent. Atwood got worried after a while, wondering if a serious issue was within reach. When Massingale finally emerged, his face was filled with musing. Atwood began to joke with him about his troubles, asking him what the meeting was about, but Massingale kept repeating that he couldn’t talk about it.
Soon after, Massingale approached Atwood with a special case. An American flag had been handed over to the department which had possible links to September 11.
Thomas E. Franklin’s iconic photo of three New York firefighters erecting an American flag over a piece of the destroyed World Trade Center instantly became, and remains to this day, one of the most famous and identifiable images taken on that fateful day . But just five hours after this photo was taken, the flag disappeared.
Brien Browne, former Marine Corps collector and collector of American historical artifacts, was watching the History Channel in his Everett home when his jaw dropped. The Lost History episode revealed that the famous American flag in Franklin’s photo – the flag hoisted and celebrated from Yankee Stadium to the Arabian Sea – was not the flag they thought it was. The program asked, if the flag sent around the world was the wrong flag, where was the real flag? Browne knew the answer; it was up in his collection.
Years earlier, an anonymous New York man married a woman Everett and returned to New York where the man had been hired as a first responder. The man answered the call from the World Trade Center site on September 11, cut off an American flag after Franklin photographed it, folded it, and placed it in his pocket. He would eventually die of health problems directly related to the response to the terrorist attacks. Alone and devastated, the man’s widow decided to return to her hometown of Everett to be closer to her family, taking with her her husband’s possessions and with them, the flag.
When she was finally able to relieve the affairs of her late husband, the woman presented the flag to Browne’s friend, who later presented it to Browne at a barbecue, noting his interest in historical American relics.
The doorbell rang at Everett Fire Department Station 1 on Rucker Ave and 36th Street shortly after Browne realized what was in his possession. Knowing that unexpected announcements such as these typically include medical emergencies, Everett firefighters responded to the call urgently only to see a man, who appeared healthy and safe, standing outside. from the station. The man handed a Joanne Fabric and Craft plastic bag to the confused firefighters and told them he had a piece of American history. The man was Browne.
Firefighters removed the flag, noticing it was wrapped in ropes and electrical tape, removed them to make the flag look better, and put it back in the bag to hand it over to administration.
During a discussion of the history of flags between Deputy Chief Everett PD and the Everett Fire Department Deputy Fire Marshal, the Fire Marshal revealed that a flag had been flown the day before by a citizen, claiming to be the famous flag featured in Franklin’s iconic photo. Astonished, the deputy chief demanded to see the artifact, which was in the Fire Marshal’s office, and immediately handed it over to the evidence room, assigning Massingale to verify whether this mind-boggling claim was true.
“Detective Massingale is a former ranger and an incredibly patriotic man. It was really appropriate that he was entrusted with this matter, ”Atwood told the Lynnwood Times.
When Atwood and Massingale received the flag, they treated it as evidence of a crime scene and were unable to reassemble the flag the way it was handed over. They took a picture of him, handled him with gloves and began their investigation which would last for the next two years. Atwood told the Lynnwood Times that visually it looked like a match, down to the number of wraps of electrical tape around the string. The original flag in Franklin’s photo was taken from the Star of America yacht moored in the Hudson River and erected on a 20-foot pole found in debris from the attacks with electrical tape and rope.
The two-year investigation was kept very secure with only a total of about four people knowing what was going on to prevent issues such as theft or tampering.
Detective Steve Paxton of the Washington State Criminal Lab was brought in to perform the forensic analysis for authentication. When Atwood and Massingale approached Paxton’s supervisor about the matter, a member of their office stumbled upon a computer desk which activated the monitor displaying Franklin’s photo as a background image. It was then that the importance of this case was felt.
Analyzed by Bill Schkeck of the Spokane Washington State Patrol Crime Lab, the flag rendered by Browne was determined to be America’s missing flag. In his forensic report, the DNA of the FDNY firefighters who detained him on September 11 as well as the debris of the fallen World Trade Center towers were conclusive.
When the two Everett detectives held a meeting to discuss this discovery, they invited another Everett PD officer, Edward Golden, who served with the NYPD in the 9/11 attacks and was the first responder. during the attacks. Golden walked over to the flag, grabbed it, brought it to his face and said, “That’s the smell I remember; I will never forget that smell.
“[Golden is] Probably the nicest person I have ever met. His name is Golden and he pretty much is, ”Atwood told the Lynnwood Times.
When the 9/11 flag was last folded in Everett, before the History Channel and Chub Insurance brought it back to New York City, Golden was chosen to do the honors.
“Every American, and even non-American, has a belief, a feeling and a thought when they see an American flag. Everyone’s perception of this flag is different; everyone has had different experiences in this country. . . and that’s what I think every time I see an American flag, ”Atwood told the Lynnwood Times.
To this day, the 9/11 flag is on display at the 9/11 Museum in New York City.
“Flags are symbols – symbols of hope, symbols of strength, symbols of us. But on this trip, I also realized that flags are mirrors, this flag in particular. And when you watch it, you’ll see what you need, and you’ll see something about yourself, ”said Brad Melter, History Channel and host of Lost History.