Ted Dorfman of Unity Township turned down his wife Lisa’s invitation to join her in watching Latrobe’s Fourth of July parade in 2001 because, he told her, he had some things to do around the house.
But the minute she left, he admitted, he stretched out on the couch and turned on the History channel that was broadcasting an unexpected program. There was an ebay auction, he learned, that was selling what was known as The Great American Flag that when unfurled covered two acres. It measured 410 by 211 feet, had 13-foot stars and weighed over 7 tons (14,000 pounds plus).
He thought that was kind of cool. So he joined the ebay auction and put in a bid for $14,900, one high enough that he hoped no one would top. No one did.
“I just bought a flag,” he told his wife. And years later he told the Bulletin, “She didn’t realize what I had done and I didn’t realize what I had acquired.”
The flag will be unfurled on Saturday Sept. 14, the first time since September in 2001 when it was displayed in a ceremony honoring the passengers and crew who died in the crash of Flight 93.
The flag has been in storage near Mountain View for the past 18 years. The trailer that it’s in will be transported to the site of Advanced Carbide Grinding in Derry where Dorfman will supervise its removal from the trailer and its unfurling on the ground. The space has been provided by his friend Edward Beck, co-owner of Advanced Carbide, where it will be stored when it’s folded again.
Dorfman is looking for volunteers to help spread out the flag after a crane operator lifts it from the trailer. Although the event is planned for the sole purpose of examining its condition, the public is invited to watch it happen.
The unfurling is set to begin at around 9 a.m. It’s expected to take a couple of hours to open the flag, another hour or two to inspect it, and then an hour and half or more to fold it again. If there’s damage, it may be returned to its maker for repairs so that it’s ready to go on the road.
The flag is now the property of The Great American Flag Preservation Group, a non-profit that was founded by Dorfman’s son Josh who lives in Arlington, Virginia, and his friend A.J. Rehberg of Alexandria, Virginia.
“We have a two-fold mission,” Josh Dorfman said. “We want to restore the flag to its original condition, and we want to find a permanent home for it so that it can continue to tell future generations its story about its origin, history, its founders, supporters and key turning points in American history.”
The first version of the flag was made by Hood Sails in Marblehead, Massachusetts, to hang on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in New York City for a Bicentennial celebration. The material was so light that within hours it was shredded by the wind.
The second version, reportedly costing half a million dollars, was made by Anchor Industries in Evansville, Indiana, and changed ownership several times. The Great American Flag Fund donated it to the United States Government where it was assigned to the General Services Administration. Then it was owned by the Kansas Cosmosphere Space Museum. Dorfman later bought it online and recently turned it over to the new non-profit.
It has been displayed many times, first on March 22, 1980, in Evansville, dedicated to the Iran hostages. In June of that year, it was displayed at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. At that time, the Guinness Book of World Records listed it as the largest flag in the world and the largest textile ever produced, titles that have since been overtaken.
The flag was unfurled on Jan. 27,1981, to greet the Iranian hostages on their return to the United States. Six months later, it honored astronauts on the first orbital space flight. On June 14, 1983, President Ronald Reagan accepted the flag as a donation to the Federal government. In his remarks, he said, “We understand that those stars and stripes stand for freedom and the forces of good….Let this grand flag forever be a symbol of the potential before us that free men and women can soar as high as their dreams and energy and ambitions will take them.”
The flag was unfurled a number of other times in Washington, D.C. Before Dorfman bought it, the last time was at Lakeview Cemetery in Wichita, Kansas, on May 26, 1997.
Josh Dorfan remembers when his father had it displayed at the Jennerstown Speedway in 2001, during a ceremony for Flight 93.
“I was eight and it’s burned in my memory,” he said. “I remember the candlelight vigil and the man from the Midwest who had written a poem, ‘I Held the Flag’ who came to read it. There were several thousand people in attendance. It ended up raining and the next day helicopter pilots donated their time to fly over the flag to dry it off. It was a pretty big event.”
Now the Dorfmans and those involved in the non-profit want to make it available for display. They plan to get a new trailer and to take the flag on the road to communities in America’s heartlands and anywhere else it’s requested and has a place to fit its size.
Ted Dorfman, who is a licensed psychologist with a private practice, understands the flag’s importance to veterans. He served in the U.S. Army from 1969 to 1972 and was commanding officer of the explosive ordnance disposal unit at the Nike Site in Manor.
“The war in Vietnam was winding down and the Army had established bomb squads across the country,” he said. “We were about the only ones trained in it then.”
Volunteers are needed for unfurling the flag. Because the group is a non-profit, the time spent can qualify for community service credits for students or Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. Certificates of participation will be issued. For information, call Ted Dorfman at 724-454-2209. Or visit the website at greatamericanflag.org or Great American Flag Preservation Group on Facebook.