Miniature flags were planted by a Forest Grove woman in memory of the victims.

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - American flags were planted in memory of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before a Tuesday, Sept. 11, memorial ceremony.Under one of the first steady rains since June, below the giant American flag where Highway 8 diverges heading into the heart of Forest Grove, close to 3,000 miniature versions of Old Glory were waving on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11.

It is 17 years ago to the day — on the same day of the week, no less — since four commercial airliners were hijacked and deliberately crashed on American soil. Two planes hit the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. One was flown into the side of the Pentagon in Arlington, Va. The fourth plane, after passengers and the flight crew revolted against the hijackers, went down in rural Pennsylvania.

All aboard each of the four planes were killed. Many more died as the World Trade Center collapsed. In all, 2,977 people died in the attacks, along with the 19 men who hijacked the flights.

Sharyl MacDonaldTo honor the dead of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Sharyl MacDonald of Forest Grove decided to purchase a small flag for each person who died. With the help of family members, neighbors, firefighters and passersby Monday, Sept. 10, and with the permission of Forest Grove Fire & Rescue, she planted each flag in the grassy triangle just east of the flagpole.

"It was just in my heart that it needed to be done," said MacDonald, who explained that she was inspired by a similar display she saw at a high school last year.

Every year, firefighters and law enforcement officers from across western Washington County, along with local officials and members of the public, gather at the Forest Grove flagpole on Sept. 11 for a memorial ceremony. At each ceremony, those in attendance take a moment to remember some of the victims of the 2001 attacks.

"It is important … that we focus not on the numbers, but who they were, who they left behind and who they might have become," said Michael Kinkade, who serves as fire chief for Forest Grove, Cornelius and Gaston. "It is not the numbers we should remember, but the people."

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Nearly 3,000 miniature American flags dot the grassy triangle in front of the Big Flag in Forest Grove, lowered to half-staff on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11.Writing on Facebook, Kinkade described the flags MacDonald and other volunteers planted for the Sept. 11 tribute as "a stunning and emotional display of what was lost that day."

Many of the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were not American citizens. According to the U.S. State Department, more than 90 countries lost citizens of their own in the attacks, many in the World Trade Center. Nevertheless, Sept. 11 memorials across the United States draw no distinction between the dead based on their nationality, counting them all as human victims of the deadliest ever attack on American soil. MacDonald's display for Tuesday's ceremony was no different.

Kinkade reads the stories of three people who died in the attacks every year — he's up to 30 now, he said, or just over 1 percent of the victims. At Tuesday's ceremony, he talked about an avid marathoner, an elevator operator and an accountant. All died in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. All three were born in other countries and came to the United States for greater opportunities.

MacDonald said she never gave much thought to using the American flag to represent each person killed in the attacks, regardless of where they came from.

"By honoring the American flag, we are honoring America and what they believed in by coming," MacDonald said.

At Tuesday's memorial, Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax spoke of the effect that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had, and continue to have, on the United States and the world.

"We have an obligation to play this forward — to remember those who died on this day 17 years ago, and those who died as a result of our actions to bring the terrorists to justice," Truax said. "But at the same time, we have an obligation to keep this country and its people true to the standard we established when we adopted that Constitution: 'We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…'"

As for MacDonald, her efforts show the impact that one person, just like each singular individual represented by a miniature flag on a gray Tuesday in September, can make.

"It was an emotional and stunning event," Kinkade said of the flag-planting Monday, "because we had this mantra about never forgetting, and sometimes we worry that people — that time has faded. And when you see something like this, it reminds you that it hasn't."

"I hope people remember," MacDonald said. "It's something that's very dear in my heart, and it's something I felt I had to do."

STAFF PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Forest Grove Fire Chief Michael Kinkade speaks at the Tuesday, Sept. 11, memorial ceremony.

By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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