WTC site more patriotic thanks to Glen Oaks man

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A Glen Oaks carpenter with a passion for the Stars and Stripes plans to have his collection of dozens of American flags flown over Ground Zero in Times Square on Sept. 11.

Richard Wright, 51, drove emergency transport as a volunteer at Ground Zero in the days following the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

After his stint moving people, supplies and equipment around the site ended, he worked as a union carpenter for a month at Ground Zero before volunteering at Nino’s Restaurant on Canal Street, which provided free meals to relief workers until February 2002.

While working at Ground Zero, the Vietnam veteran noticed there was no American flag at the observation deck’s police booth.

He put one up, then realized there was no flag at a nearby U.S. Army booth. Wright put one there, then at several other security booths around the site, then finally on Ground Zero itself.

The flags are “a tribute going all the way back to the Revolutionary War, to the soldiers that are serving now,” said Wright, also known as “Rick the Flag Man.”

“You don’t mess with Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty’s twins,” he said of the Twin Towers.

The last of Wright’s flags was taken down from Ground Zero in March. Wright believes the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. and the Port Authority do not want the site’s appearance as a memorial to turn off potential commercial tenants.

“We should move on,” said Wright. “But at the same time we don’t have to forget.”

After his flags were returned, Wright designated the remaining ones in his Ground Zero collection to wave over the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa. — the other two sites associated with the terror attacks.

He sent the flags to the Pentagon, where staff there raised the flags on the first night of war in Iraq.

After contacting the Shanksville fire chief and coordinator of the town’s temporary memorial, he drove to the Pennsylvania countryside on Flag Day, June 14, and personally raised the flags in groups of seven near where United Flight 93 crashed.

Wright donated a framed flag Monday to the Queens County Savings Bank in Little Neck for display at least through Sept. 11.

“I wanted a place where the public could view it,” said Wright, adding that a bank would provide a secure environment for a historic flag and, like the Twin Towers, is a symbol of commerce.

The rest of the collection will debut at the veterans’ hospital in East Northport, L.I. on Sept. 9 before being transferred to Times Square, provided Wright’s street activities permit from the mayor’s office comes through.

After Sept. 11, Wright hopes to make his flags available for ceremonial purposes and commemorations by victims’ families or non-profit groups. He is also working on setting up a fund for the flags to be exhibited across the country. Wright can be reached at mrtruck52@aol.com.

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Updated 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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