ARLINGTON, Va. - In the late hours of the night of September 11, 2001, a small American flag was placed on top of the Pentagon. Fifteen years later, we are familiar with the famous, large flag that is draped over the side of the building to the right of the spot where it was struck by a plane, but the Department of Defense’s website says no one knows whose idea it was to unfurl that flag.
Perhaps this story helps to solve that mystery. It started with that much smaller American flag, which was given to FOX 5 anchor Laura Evans by a still unidentified man in the hours after the attack. Evans then handed the flag off to two soldiers.
Evans recently shared the story on her Facebook page, trying to track the man down ahead of the 15th anniversary of 9/11. Though she didn’t find him amid the thousands of responses, she did find the team of men involved in getting his flag placed on the Pentagon.
That night, Evans was reporting from outside the Pentagon, the smoke still rising behind her. As she waited her next live shot, the unidentified man approached her. Agitated and upset, he was carrying a flag and he had a request.
“He wanted the flag put on top of the Pentagon to show the terrorists our unending strength and resolve,” Evans remembers.
Not long after that exchange, two men in fatigues walked by Evans’ live location. She explained the request, and they took the flag. Mike Regan, a retired Fairfax County Fire & Rescue lieutenant, said he remembered the two men who carried that flag.
“I was waiting to have a meeting with a couple of the FBI agents to discuss what we had found in there when two soldiers came up to me and said, ‘Hey sir, we'd like to put this flag up on the Pentagon. We were denied permission to do that. Can you give us permission to go up there?’” Regan remembers.
Regan says he went to his chief, who immediately said yes to the request.
“He was like, ‘Absolutely. Chief Donaldson said do whatever you need to do to get it up,’” Regan told Evans.
Regan says he tapped two guys to go up in the “man basket” to place the flag. Sergeant Aaron Oaks, a search and rescue team leader, was one of them. Dewey Snavely, a heavy equipment supervisor, helped guide the crane.
“It was a symbol of hope,” Oaks said.
“It was one of those moments,” Snavely told FOX 5. “This is ours. You’re not going to take it from us. This is ours. As an American, as an American soldier-- it was everything.”
Former Fairfax County 911 dispatcher Lori Lewis Zaumseil had been working at the Pentagon all day. She spotted the flag going up. In a video project called Voices of 9/11, the year after the attacks, she told the story of that little flag. In the video, she recalls seeing members of the military spontaneously standing to salute the flag as it was placed.
“It looked perfect,” Regan said, “and it just looked like that's where it belonged and where we belonged.”
What was an otherwise routine and simple action brought new energy and strength in a scene of despair that night. It represented pride and unity. For Snavely, seeing the video for the first time 15 years later, there are strong emotions.
“It’s almost like on cue—the wind starts blowing,” he said.
“It's a pretty unbelievable story about how it got from way back there-- all the way to us who were working inside, and that those guys were able to get it up. Especially with two cinder blocks and a roll of duct tape,” Regan said.
Regan added that the story of that little flag is one they tell—and one of the best they have.
The next day, on September 12, the small flag was replaced by the massive Garrison flag—which we now see draped over the Pentagon every year on 9/11-- before President George W. Bush arrived to tour the building.