For more than 12 years, Elaine Greene, JoAnn Miller and Carmen Footer have stood at the corner of Main and School streets in downtown Freeport on Tuesday mornings and waved American flags at passing drivers.
Dressed in stars-and-stripes shirts, the women gather in a show of support for U.S. troops and the people who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Greene and Miller have carried on the tradition since the attacks, never missing a Tuesday. Footer joined them intermittently at the beginning, then on a regular basis after she retired six years ago.
On Tuesday, one of the Freeport Flag Ladies will be unable to participate.
Footer, who is 72, had open heart surgery Friday and is recovering at Maine Medical Center in Portland. It’s not known when she might be released. A hospital official said her condition was serious late Monday night.
“Carmen has had a rough ride,” Greene said. “But today there was a little turnaround.”
After the Flag Ladies announced on their Facebook page that Footer had undergone surgery, the three women, who live together in a house on School Street, were inundated with Facebook messages, emails and phone calls from people across the nation, wishing her well.
Greene started the flag-waving ritual just three days after hijacked jetliners were flown into the World Trade Center’s twin towers and the Pentagon. The women usually stand across the street from L.L. Bean’s flagship retail store. They have endured snowstorms, rainstorms, freezing temperatures and blistering heat, never skipping a Tuesday morning.
The ladies cover all of their expenses – for things such as gift packages to soldiers and trips to Bangor’s airport to join the Maine Troop Greeters – with their own funds or money that they raise. That means they don’t take vacations or subscribe to cable television.
“We are just everyday Americans,” Greene said. “We are not special people.”
She said she is still, after all these years, surprised by the impact their actions have had on their fellow Americans.
“It is so touching to know that we have made a difference in the hearts of so many,” she said Monday night.
Nancy Lee Kelley of Old Orchard Beach has become close friends with the Freeport Flag Ladies. Her son, Capt. Christopher S. Cash, was killed in Iraq in 2004.
“I just love them,” Kelley said. “I call them my sisters.”
Kelley regrets that a prior commitment will prevent her from joining her friends Tuesday morning, but she has heard that a large crowd of people will come to Freeport to show support for Footer.
“Tomorrow is the first day in years that the three of them haven’t been together. It’s going to be a big day for them,” Kelley said.
“They are an amazing group of women who are truly dedicated to their cause,” said John Skillin, a former past master of the Freeport Masonic Lodge.
Skillin became friends with the women in 2011, when the Freeport Flag Ladies helped the Masonic Lodge organize an event in town marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
Greene said Footer was disappointed to learn that she wouldn’t be able to attend Tuesday’s flag waving, but her two younger sisters plan to stand in her place.
Greene is now 68 years old and Miller is 76.
Greene was asked how much longer the Freeport Flag Ladies plan to stand on what they call “the ‘hill” because there is an incline between their house and the intersection where School Street meets Main Street.
“We are going to stand on the hill,” she said, “until our government pulls all of the troops out of Afghanistan and returns them to the United States.”
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: