The World Trade Center flag was stolen!

On September 11, 2001, in New York City, the World Trade Center (WTC) was attacked by terrorists. Flights 11 and 175 were hijacked and both flown into the twin towers. In the rubble of the fallen buildings, three New York City firefighters raised an American flag as a symbol of freedom. The event was captured by photographer Thomas E. Franklin.

News photographer Thomas E. Franklin shot the image at 5:01 p.m., shooting his series of photos from about 150 yards away. “I saw the firemen with the flag, and a flagpole wedged at an odd angle atop a pile of rubble about 15 feet high,” Franklin said. “I waited, unsure what was happening. Just then the fireman in the center, Dan McWilliams, hoisted the flag up the pole. His colleagues, George Johnson and William ‘Billy’ Eisengrein, looked on. I pointed my camera and shot a burst of frames as the flag went up,” Franklin said.

world trade center flag

©2001 The Record, (Bergen County, N.J.)

“For a brief moment, the similarity to [Joe] Rosenthal’s picture [“Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima”] flashed through my mind and I recognized the symbolism,” Franklin has said.

After his photo was used for The Record newspaper and put on The Associated Press wire shortly after midnight, the image seemed to take on a life of its own. It has since been printed on 255 million U.S. postage stamps as a fund-raiser for emergency workers with sales generating upwards of $10 million.

Where did the flag come from?
The firemen stole it!


Firefighters of Engine 255 and Ladder 157 of Brooklyn, New York had been digging in the rubble at Ground Zero searching for survivors at WTC 7, when they were instructed to evacuate as the weakened structure was close to collapse. During the evacuation, Firefighter Dan McWilliams, 35, from Ladder 157 spotted the flag and flagpole and was inspired to move it to West Street where rescue crews were working. McWilliams, of Long Island, spotted a 130-ft. yacht named “Star of America” which was owned by Shirley Dreifus of the Majestic Star company in New York while it was docked inside a boat slip at the World Financial Center.

McWilliams cut the yardarm off of the yacht with a K-Saw and then took the flag and its pole from the yacht to an evacuation area. On his way, McWilliams passed a coworker, George Johnson, 36, of Rockaway Beach, Queens. He slapped Johnson on his shoulder and said, “Give me a hand, will ya, George?” William Eisengrein, of Rescue 2 from Brooklyn, saw them and asked, “You need a hand?”

The firefighters found a flagpole within rubble about 20 feet off the ground on West Street. They used an improvised ramp to climb to the pole to raise the flag McWilliams had aquired. As they performed their act, Franklin aimed his long camera lens in their direction and snapped what became the iconic image.

Ms. Dreifus later noticed her flag was missing when she came to inspect the boat after the attack. People at the marina witnessed the firefighters taking the flag and were able to inform Ms. Dreifus that it was her flag that had apparently been raised in the now-famous photo.

Where did the flag go afterwards?


Still smelling of smoke, the flag was immediately transported to the crew of the USS Theodore Roosevelt en route to Afghanistan. It was then shared with six other military ships before returning to New York City. On Monday, April 1, 2002, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and George Pataki signed the flag and it was raised formally in front of New York’s City Hall. All three of the firefighters who had originally raised the flag at the World Trade Center on September 11 were in attendance in places of honor. After flying over City Hall for a week, the flag was rotated among various city police and firehouses.

But guess what?

The flag has since disappeared. The rightful owners of the flag wanted to donate the flag to the Smithsonian Institution and asked about a year after the attacks to borrow the signed flag briefly for a ceremony. The city thought it had possession of the flag after the attack, but when an official was sent to pick up the flag, it seems he received a larger flag than the one taken from the yacht of Shirley Dreifus.

While the yacht’s flag measured four feet by six feet, the flag the city had in its possession measured five feet by eight feet

“When we got the flag, we were quite stunned that it was the wrong flag,” said Shirley Dreifus. “This wraps around the two of us, and we’re not the thinnest people on Earth … So we knew right away it was the wrong flag.”

So where is the flag? I believe it is probably in a landfill somewhere or has passed through a recycling center and is long gone. The flag passed around the Navy and Yankee stadium and the other locations was some other flag from the location but not the flag stolen from Shirley Dreifus’ yacht.

Why didn’t Firefighter Dan McWilliams get arrested for vandalism and theft?

Some would argue in order for there to be a crime, there must be a victim. The ‘victim’ in this case would be Shirley Dreifus who had her personal property vandalized and removed from her possession without her knowledge and consent. Some would argue Dan McWilliams and his cohorts should have been cited and charged like any looters would.

What do you think? Should these men have been given reprieve due to the stress of the situation? They had no idea they would be considered by many as heroes as they were not aware Thomas Franklin was photographing them and that more than those working it the area would know what they had done. They were not doing something ‘for the betterment of America’. Or should the City of New York charge these men with the crimes of vandalism and theft based on evidence and eyewitness testimony? Yeah, good luck on that right?

I guess in the meantime the world will just go on beLIEving what it wants to in the effort to make itself feel good.

History is sometimes a lie.

What do you think? Are these guys heroes or common street crooks who feel they are above the law? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

21 Replies to “The World Trade Center flag was stolen!”

    • Right. Although they did not know that anybody outside their circle / rescue efforts would know they did such a thing. So they had no idea it would cause national pride.

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  3. Neither….it was a highly emotional day and they were working on sheer adrenaline and heart wrenching sadness. So while they did vandalize and steal, I don’t believe anyone, esp the first responders, were thinking clearly. They were simply doing what they thought was good against evil. They were doing it in honor of their fallen comrades and for their own hearts. So neither criminal nor hero…just leave it alone now. What is done is done. Sure wish the woman can get her flag back though.

    • Nah, I probably won’t “just leave it alone.” This is just another case of people not being help accountable, especially the so-called heroes of the public service.
      They were not thinking clearly? Perhaps better training is in order. I am not saying I could do better. That is the reason I do not do that job. Still, they went to great lengths to steal from a private citizen and should be held accountable.
      Troy recently posted…7 Awesome Books That Changed My LifeMy Profile

      • I suppose cuz I know so many people overseas in different countries that are dealing with bombings and terrorism and such far more than we are, and I am always hearing sthg new that they have to put up with, that I find the theft of this flag is the least of things to worry about. Too much corruption in our government to worry about, too much evil….sigh. I guess I have to pick my battles. And I am usually very adamant about dishonesty. Maybe I am getting old. ha

        • I do not know you though I feel you when you say Maybe I am getting old. :/
          I lived in Europe for many years as well as the Middle East. I spent time in Beirut and Israel and Egypt. I was at a restaurant about 24 hours before it was bombed. I had armed guards in Egypt and in Tel Aviv and in Beirut. I know a thing or two about ‘bad guys’.
          The theft of the flag is indeed small compared to many things. I just want to draw to the attention that this happened as no one ever speaks of it.
          Peace Cristy and thanks for visiting and taking your valuable time to engage with me here. You are welcome back any time. 🙂
          Troy recently posted…Terrorism is never going awayMy Profile

          • okay wow you have the experience for sure of the worst of the worst… when there was a shooting recently in Munich, we had fans who were there to go see Scorpions, texting and posting that they were pinned down and they were terrified and I was crying cuz I felt as though I were there. And I keep going thru the emotions every time I hear of another incident where our friends are right there; France, Berlin, etc. I know you had more of an emotional upheaval. I am grateful to you for telling me your side and I respect and love your passion for something that so many, ahem, like me, try to diminish it. Never let that die… I am not as healthy as I used to be so therefore, I guess I am having to pick and choose my strong opinions. Much luck to you my friend. Thank you for your convictions.

  4. Hi,
    Neither….it was a highly emotional day and they were working on sheer adrenaline and heart wrenching sadness. So while they did vandalize and steal, I don’t believe anyone, esp the first responders were thinking clearly. They were simply doing what they thought was good against evil. They were doing it in honor of their fallen comrades and for their own hearts. So neither criminal nor hero.

  5. Oh my god! the line: It has since been printed on 255 million U.S. postage stamps as a fund-raiser for emergency workers with sales generating upwards of $10 million. Is it really happen?

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