Carrying Flag has Special Meaning for Dowd
By BILL WAGNER,
Staff WriterCapital Gazette Communications
John Dowd was extremely proud to be asked to carry an American flag onto the field for Navy’s home opener on Sept. 11. The junior left guard grew downright emotional when he learned the background behind the particular flag he held high while leading the Navy football team out of the tunnel to a standing ovation from the 33,391 fans at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“I can’t describe how much that meant to me. Carrying the flag out for our team is a big deal. It was very special for me to be asked, especially since it was the anniversary of Sept. 11,” Dowd said.
Dowd received the honor of carrying a flag that was raised at ground zero the previous week by Det. Rich Miller and other volunteers with the Post 9-11 Foundation to kick off a nationwide campaign to unify and honor civil first responders and military service personnel. Three of the flags raised at the site of the World Trade Center in New York City were hand-delivered to the Air Force Academy, United States Military Academy and Naval Academy to be displayed during football games.
It was certainly fitting that Dowd was asked by head coach Ken Niumatalolo to carry the flag from ground zero onto the field in Annapolis. Dowd hails from Staten Island, a borough of New York City that has a huge population of civil servants. In fact, 280 Staten Island residents were killed due to the destruction of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11.
Dowd was 11 years old when his community was rocked by the unspeakable events of Sept. 11, 2001. His father, Thomas Dowd, is a retired lieutenant with the New York City Police Department. His grandfather and uncles on mother Kathy’s side were New York City firefighters.
Although just a sixth grader, Dowd remembers all too well the tense aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks and how it affected his close-knit community.
“The first day, you just waited and prayed that your parents got home safe, and the parents of the other kids on your block got home safe. By the next day, word started spreading about people that were missing, and it’s just horrible,” Dowd said. “It really hits home when it’s the father of the kid you played basketball with or the lady down the street you shoveled snow for.”
Dowd developed into an outstanding football player, a three-year lettermen at St. Peter’s Boys School and a two-time All-Star selection by the Staten Island Advance. The 6-foot-4, 260-pounder was also valedictorian of his senior class and vice president of the St. Peter’s chapter of the National Honor Society. Those academic and athletic credentials gave the youngster an ideal opportunity to help heal the wounds inflicted by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
“It made a big impact on me. After the attack on the Twin Towers, I just knew that I had to serve this country in some way,” he said. “I feel very fortunate that I was able to follow this path. If I didn’t do as well in school, I would have probably enlisted in the service.
“Det. Rich Miller of the NYPD, a former Marine, has been recognized as the first responder to raise an American flag at ground zero after the attacks while executing recovery efforts. Miller lost many men from his Emergency Services Unit that day and created the Post 9-11 Foundation as a tribute to them.
This latest effort to honor the sacrifices by made by the many New York City emergency personnel that died when the Twin Towers collapsed began with obtaining American flags that had flown over special operations bases in Afghanistan. Det. Miller had those flags raised at ground zero for several days before dispersing them around the country.
Capt. John Flynn, who served 20 years with the New York City Fire Department, was asked to escort one of the flags to the Naval Academy. Capt. Flynn commanded HAZMAT Company One, a citywide squad based out of Queens that lost 19 of 21 members on Sept. 11.
Vice Admiral Michael H. Miller, the Naval Academy superintendent, hosted Flynn at a reception prior to the opener against Georgia Southern. Flynn also was asked to participate in the pregame coin toss after delivering the flag that Dowd would present.
“I feel it’s important to unite the people that protect us from within to the people that protect us from without. Whether home or abroad, we are often fighting the same enemy, a fact the events of Sept. 11 illustrated very vividly,” Flynn said. “To know the flag I brought to the Naval Academy football game was carried onto the field by a player from Staten Island makes me even more proud. That is very, very fitting.
“Moments before the Navy football team took the field, Kathy Dowd received a text message from her son. It read: “Carrying special flag. Watch for it.” Dowd had never texted his mother the day of a game, much less minutes before kickoff. When Tom and Kathy Dowd saw No. 68 sprinting out of the tunnel carrying an American flag, they were overcome with emotion.
“You have no idea how significant this moment was for our family. Being from New York City and having so many friends and family that were touched by Sept. 11… it was just monumental for John to be asked to represent Navy football by carrying that flag on the anniversary,” Kathy Dowd said.
The Dowds attend Sacred Heart Church, which had nine members killed during the World Trade Center attacks. Among those was Stephen Siller, whose widow works as a nurse with Kathy Dowd and whose five children attended the same schools as John Dowd and his siblings.
“My husband and I both volunteered in the aftermath of 9/11. We lost nine members of our parish and went to many funerals. We participate in an annual run to honor Stephen Siller and visit ground zero,” Kathy Dowd said. “John was deeply moved by what happened on Sept. 11 and it is one of the main reasons why he went to the Naval Academy. Coach Ken has touched all of our hearts tremendously with this gesture.”