When Mike Simler, a former police officer in Washington, D.C. and Colorado, was searching for a way to have a special ceremony at the US Air Force Academy football game on September 11, 2010, he came across something interesting on the internet.
He landed on the Post 9/11 Foundation site and read a story which first appeared in American Police Beat about the first flag raising at Ground Zero just 24 hours after the attacks on September 11, 2001.
He contacted veteran NYPD Detective Rich Miller, who along with Richie Hartigan, raised the flag just hours later in the midst of the catastrophe that became known as Ground Zero. Mike and Rich put their heads together and came up with a plan to incorporate the Foundation’s “Follow the Flag” campaign. Mike’s dad, a 4-Star General in the U.S. Air Force, and former Athletic Director and founder of the Falcons Foundation at the USAF Academy, died in 1972 in a plane crash.
Mike and his family had donated the flag that was draped over his father’s casket to the USAF Academy, where it has remained for over 30 years.
Mike and Rich decided it would be a fitting tribute to take the flag to New York City, where Rich, accompanied by his wife Theresa, escorted the flag to Ground Zero where it was raised by a group of Port Authority Police officers.
It was later formally folded by officials from the New York City Fire Department and escorted by the Metropolitan Transit Authority Police Department.
After flying proudly at Ground Zero, Rich and Theresa took the flag to Colorado, where they were invited to participate in the final escort of this special flag during the first game of the season.
Below is the story by Frank Schwab which appeared in the Colorado Springs Gazette shortly before the big game on September 11th.
Keep an eye on the two American flags when they’re brought into Falcon Stadium on Saturday. There is significant meaning behind each one. One was flown in Afghanistan, over a spot where soldiers buried debris from the World Trade Center after a battle, according to Post 9/11 Foundation leader Rich Miller.
The other was flown over the World Trade Center site. That flag was a gift to the academy – it was draped over the casket of Lt. Gen. George Simler, former Air Force athletic director, at his funeral in 1972.
The Air Force decided to have a remembrance ceremony before Saturday’s football game on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and it went all out.
Detective Steve Hayden, a New York police officer and veteran of three branches of the military, and FDNY firefighter Ken Haskell, will be honorary game captains. They were honored by the cadet wing.
“There will not be another event in this country, other than New York City, in a stadium that will compare to it,” said Mike Simler, George Simler’s son, who lauded the Air Force for its efforts in putting the event together.
The stories behind the flags show how every detail was considered. The flag from Afghanistan will be carried out by a Falcons player as he leads the team out of the tunnel.
The Air Force will not reveal who will get that honor. The other flag, which will be parachuted into the stadium, also has special meaning. Mike Simler kept the flag since his father’s funeral. The academy has always been special to the Simler family, and Mike Simler described the academy as a second family.
He wanted to give the academy that flag as a token of the family’s appreciation and also as a tribute to his father.
Simler got in touch with Miller, and while working on some of the details for Saturday’s ceremony at Falcon Stadium, the idea was hatched to use that flag.
“To me, I thought it would be a great honor to have that flag fly over ground zero, and to give to the academy for everything they’ve done for us,” said Simler, who thought his father would be proud to be honored that way. The flag was sent to New York, where the Port Authority allowed it to be flown over the World Trade Center site Sept. 2.
It was taken across the street to FDNY Ladder 10, where two firefighters folded it. The flag was brought back to Colorado the next day.
“It was a great honor to hold that flag and have that flag brought down to the World Trade Center and raised,” Rich Miller told reporters. “I was overwhelmed. It sent chills down my spine.”