Mill Basin Firemen Bring Home New Unity Flag From The Heartland
By Neil S. Friedman
A group of nine Mill Basin firefighters recently drove halfway across the country, to the nation’s heartland, for a special ceremony in which they received a replacement for the Unity Flag presented to one of them a year ago. The original 17’x25’ banner from Topeka, Kansas, which was created as a tribute to the victims of 9/11, was torn apart by severe winds while hanging at Ground Zero last summer.
When firefighter Paul Stroessner, who brought back the original flag from the Midwestern capital last year, learned of the damage, he contacted Cindy Leggitt, the homemaker who concocted the idea for the first Unity Flag. Leggitt decided to produce a new banner, which like the old one, is made up of patches representing each of the 50 states surrounding a U.S, flag with the phrase "United We Stand" underneath it.
Stroessner, a 13-year veteran, was one of 200 firefighters who participated in a New York City Fire Department goodwill tour last year to show appreciation for the national support received after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, in which more than 350 of New York’s Bravest perished.
Leggitt got the ball rolling for a special ceremony at which the new flag would be presented. Stroessner and eight buddies — Captain Gerry Bonfiglio, Kevin App, Victor Carlucci, Kevin Clayton, Mike Sbrigato, Kiernan Mooney, Patrick Grady and Jose Briceno — from Engine Co. 323, a unit of the 58th Battalion that includes the Canarsie fire company, at 6405 Avenue N, decided to attend the event.
Paying for the trip out of their own pockets, the firemen rented a large mobile RV — a virtual house on wheels — for the five-day trip. Taking turns at the wheel they reached Topeka in about 24 hours and were put up, at no cost, at a local hotel.
The Canarsie Courier published an article and photographs of the flag last year (March 21, 2002) and talked to Stroessner last week about the flag presentation and showed a reporter a videotape of the service.
The ceremony was held on February 7 at Highland Park High School in Tecumseh, a suburb of Topeka, with hundreds of local residents in attendance, including Mayor Butch Felker, members of the Topeka Fire Department’s Engine Co. 4, the Topeka Police Department, a unit of the Kansas Air National Guard, the county sheriff’s office, as well as the secondary school’s teachers and students.
Mayor Felker and Leggitt presented the replacement flag to the Mill Basin firemen after which Capt. Bonfiglio told the enthusiastic crowd, "We’re happy to receive the Unity flag from the citizens of this state."
Stroessner told them, "You made us feel at home and you made us feel welcome."
In her remarks Leggitt told the firemen, "Even though New York is 1,000 miles away — you are now also our neighbors. You are why we offer this symbol of unity at this time. The flag symbolizes the greatness of our country."
The Topeka mayor said, "When we present the Unity flag to our honored guests, they will take it home as a remembrance of their visit and in knowledge that united we stand."
Leggitt came up with the new flag concept and it was sewn together by a Highland Park High School teacher and two of her students from October to December 2002 as part of Ramsey’s clothing lab class.
Stroessner said the new flag would either be donated to the New York City Fire Museum or the New York City Fire Department training academy.