3,000 miniature flags placed on South Lawn as part of Sept. 11 commemoration event

Seventeen years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Young Americans for Freedom honors lives lost in N.Y., Va. and Penn.

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The nearly 3,000 miniature American flags on the South Lawn represented each casualty from Sept. 11, 2001.

Archana Shekharan | Cavalier Daily

Students gathered Tuesday morning to place nearly 3,000 miniature American flags on the South Lawn to commemorate each casualty from Sept. 11, 2001. The event was part of the 9/11 Never Forget Project, a nationwide initiative conducted by Young Americans for Freedom — a conservative student activism organization with chapters at high schools and universities across the country. 

Although the University’s YAF chapter has conducted the project on Grounds since 2013, this year marks the first full-scale remembrance event.

“We did this event last year, but we were still getting started up and we didn’t have the resources to put the event on fully,” YAF chair and fourth-year College student Kevin McMahon said. “This year we bought 3,000 flags, and we’re probably not even halfway done right now.”

As he spoke, other YAF members were sticking small flags in the ground across the South Lawn. Every couple minutes, a student passing by stopped to place a flag in the ground.

“We’ve already had a bunch of people come up and ask what the flags are for, and we tell them it’s 9/11, and so many people respond, ‘Oh, I wasn’t even thinking about that.’ That’s kind of the gist of what we’re doing — definitely a remembrance, a memorial,” McMahon said. 

Last year, YAF members met with Dean of Students Allen Groves after Sept. 11, and expressed their concern that flags on the North side of the Rotunda were not lowered to half mast on the anniversary of the attacks. McMahon sent an email Monday to Groves to request again that the flags be lowered to half mast on Sept. 11. Early Tuesday morning, the flags were already at half mast. 

“I did ask if the flags on the Rotunda terrace could be lowered to half mast for September 11,” Groves said in an email statement. “However, I do not know who made the ultimate decision to do so; nor do I know if my request played any role.”

When people see the Never Forget project or the flags at half mast near the Rotunda, McMahon said, hopefully they’ll remember. For this generation of college students, 9/11 is a distant memory, so people tend to forget.

“I’m a fourth-year at U.Va. and I was only four-and-a-half when 9/11 happened, so I think over time people forget things like that,” McMahon said. “I don’t think it’s any fault of their own, but I do think it’s really important to remember nonetheless.”

In the past year, the University’s YAF chapter has grown significantly. When second-year College student Austin Jennings attended his first meeting last fall, only eight other students were present. Now, between 30 and 60 students regularly attend meetings and events. So far, he said, responses to the Never Forget Project have been positive. 

“Not that this is remotely a controversial event, but we’ve had a lot of normal people who don’t know who we are come up to us and thank us for what we’re doing,” Jennings said. “We had a professor come by earlier who came up and told us her story of taking care of her mom when everything was going down.”

Several students participating in the event were not YAF members, but saw students placing flags in the ground and wanted to participate. 

“I ran into YAF while they were putting out the flags, and I didn’t know about them at all,” fourth-year College student Maggie Natal said. “I thought [that] this is such a great thing, so I put a flag down too. They needed extra hands, so I came out this morning.”

“I usually do runs every year, but when I’m at school I can’t get back up to DC to do it, so this is a good replacement,” Natal added. “I don’t have class until 3:30, so I will stay out here as long as I need to.” 

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