Marines at Kandahar airport raise U.S. flag that flew over ruins of World Trade Center |

Marines at Kandahar airport raise U.S. flag that flew over ruins of World Trade Center

DOUG MELLGREN, Associated Press Writer

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — A giant U.S. flag that flew over New York’s ground zero and was scrawled with the names of victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks was raised Tuesday by Marines at their base at Kandahar airport.

The flag was given to the Marines by the New York Police Department in the hopes that it would be flown over Afghanistan, said Col. Andrew W. Frick of Task Force 58.

After a single blast on a police whistle, a four-man color guard raised the flag on a makeshift pole in the glass-scattered courtyard of the main terminal building at the airport outside the southern city of Kandahar. About 30 Marines and sailors, along representatives of coalition forces, stood at attention.

“They took 23 great cops. Pay back time,” read one unsigned note among the numerous messages written in the red and white stripes of the flag by relatives of victims, fellow policemen and others.

In the white stars of the flag’s blue field were written the names of the police officers who died in the World Trade Center attack, as well as those of 17 sailors killed in an October 2000 suicide bombing against the Navy ship USS Cole in Yemen.

Both attacks have been blamed on Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida terror network, the main targets in the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan.

“God bless the NYPD, FDNY, US armed forces. Good luck and make us proud,” said one message scrawled by P.O. Morietti, of the New York’s 43rd police precinct, in the flag’s stripes.

“In memory of James Rickes, NYPD + NYFD. Never punked out,” said another message.

Another, signed by Mark Poster, said “God bless and protect you while you avenge our fallen brothers. We didn’t ask for this fight, but we will finish it now.”

Two weeks after the terror attacks, the flag was draped across a building near the World Trade Center. Later, it was taken to an emergency services office in Manhattan, where it became a memorial cloth.

There, a parent wrote, “I will always miss my son Rodney.”

Last month, a Marine spokesman in New York said the flag was being sent to Afghanistan “to bring a little piece of lower Manhattan, of Ground Zero, to Marines who have never been here.”

It was flown to the USS Bataan, a Navy warship in the northern Arabian Sea, and then went with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit from Camp Lejeune, N.C., which seized this abandoned international airport Friday.

“For our purposes, it is symbolic,” said Frick about the flag-raising. He said the flag will later be returned to the New York City police.

On Monday, in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, U.S. troops raised the same flag that was lowered at the U.S. Embassy almost 13 years ago, as a U.S. envoy pledged American involvement in Afghanistan’s struggle to rebuild.

Frick said the Marines were close, but not quite finished, with the job Americans wanted them to do in Afghanistan in the war against terrorism.

“Our job is not done until we track down the leadership” of the Taliban and al-Qaida organizations, he said.

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