SOMERSET – One by one, volunteers pushed American flags into packed soil, honoring each victim killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.
When they were finished on Tuesday evening, 2,977 flags filled the embankment for more than 100 yards along the entrance to the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Somerset Borough.
The display was installed to welcome America’s 9-11 Ride participants when they gather in Somerset on Thursday before riding to Flight 93 National Memorial and on to the Pentagon in Washington and Ground Zero in New York.
Organizer Regina Coughenour, executive director of Somerset Inc., calls it a “powerful” visual of the losses suffered in the Sept. 11 attacks.
“We have all these volunteers being mindful that every flag represents a person,” Coughenour said during the flag installment. “Then, once you look at it all together, the magnitude is just staggering.”
The display in front of Somerset’s Comfort Inn also recalls the national unity that grew out of the response to the attacks, she said.
Now in its second year, the flag display is co-sponsored by Somerset County Chamber of Commerce and Somerset Inc., which is the borough’s Main Street program.
The display was launched in connection with the annual motorcycle ride, but Coughenour said it came to serve a larger purpose.
“We have hundreds of motorcyclists who ride all the way from Flight 93 to Ground Zero,” she said. “We wanted to welcome them in a way that was mindful and powerful, but we ended up doing a lot more than that. Last year we heard from parents that it was educational for kids who weren’t alive when 9/11 happened.”
More than 50 people worked through a brief drizzle Tuesday to place the flags. Volunteers included families, employees of several participating businesses, veterans’ groups and members of Boy Scout Troop 131 of Calvary United Methodist Church in Somerset.
“The Boy Scout slogan is ‘Do a good turn daily,’ Scoutmaster Chris Burtner said. “We try to give back to the community. It made it better than sitting in a church working on merit badges.”
Ron Aldom, executive director of the chamber, said the display and community effort behind it illustrates why Somerset promotes itself as America’s County.
“This is what Somerset County does all the time,” Aldom said. “It makes the town feel good. It makes the county feel good.”