For the last 18 years, three women have stood on Main Street in Freeport every Tuesday and waved the american flag to honor the members of the U.S. Military, and those who died in the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Wednesday, September 11, 2019 was their last day. The Freeport Flag Ladies are retiring and, hundreds of supporters joined the three to honor them for nearly two decades of work-in all kinds of weather.
Just before 8:00 a.m. the three women — Carmen Footer, Elaine Greene and JoAnn Miller — walk out the door of the house they've shared for decades and walk a block toward Main Street. As Greene holds an umbrella to shield herself from a steady drizzle, she remembers the day they made their first walk up the hill to wave flags after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
"Those days after, the sky was so blue,” says Greene. “I was kinda hoping for that, but maybe the rain is appropriate."
A small group of friends and supporters often join the trio for the weekly flag vigil but on this — their last day — hundreds line the street, waving their own flags as passing cars honk.
"Many people say they're patriotic. You live it," Kirsten Swanson Hoyt, who served in the military, wraps her arms around the women and declares them honorary veterans.
It's a sentiment shared by Bob Dionne, who says he's stood with the Flag Ladies on many Tuesdays.
"It's remarkable,” Dionne says. “I mean, rain sleet, shine, cold, hot, they were here. And that's how our service people have been for us, right? They don't have a chance to pick the day they want to serve. When they serve, they serve 100 percent. That's what these ladies are doing."
The Flag Ladies have been whipped in the face by wet frozen flags. Elaine Greene, who's 74, dislocated her shoulder once. Just Tuesday, 77-year old Carmen Footer broke her arm when she fell on her way up to wave the flag. Eighty-three-year old JoAnn Miller says it's simply time to retire. But as she surveys the size of the crowd, she says it's been worth it.
"We made a good decision a few years ago to be here, that it's made a difference to people to be here,” Miller says. “That was our focus."
Miller says she hopes they've inspired people to put aside their differences and find common ground in support of their country. And there is a feeling of unity on this morning, as the women dole out countless hugs, pose for photos, and receive appearances from Governor Janet Mills and former Governor Paul LePage and his wife Ann.
Elaine Greene is greeted with applause as she works her way up and down the street to shake as many hands as possible. She makes a point to talk to students from Freeport Middle School.
"Well, they are our future, and now they can see people as proud Americans,” says Greene. “And they need to feel that. Because without that feeling, there's no reason to try to fix us. To fix our country. But when they love us, they've got every reason in the world to do the best for us."
The Flag Ladies say they will continue other work they do to support military service members. But as for Tuesday mornings? Carmen Footer says she's looking forward to her new, relaxed schedule and: "A slow cup of coffee."
Originally published Sept. 11, 2019 at 11:01 a.m. ET.