For nine years, teenagers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Ahwatukee Foothills have worked together to remind the community of those who were lost during the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, by posting more than 100 American flags along the Warner-Elliot Loop for a 24-hour period.
"It was just an idea from the bishop that preceded me on the first anniversary of 9/11," said Kerry Griggs, bishop of Ahwatukee First Ward. "It was something we could do to provide a little service to the community and serve as a reminder."
The church bought the flags and poles to set them up on with church funds and asked the youth, ages 12 to 18, to help set them up and take them down with help from adult leaders.
"The first couple years it was mostly the youth and youth leaders," Griggs said. "As word got out as to how much fun it was and the congratulatory remarks you hear as you put flags on the loop we started getting a lot more participation from adult members."
The LDS church is divided into congregations or wards geographically. Ahwatukee First Ward began the tradition but they also receive help from the youth of Ahwatukee Second Ward.
The group gets together usually on the night of Sept. 10 and divides into groups of two or three people. Each group takes 10 to 11 flags to put up along the Warner-Elliot Loop and 48th Street. This year because the 10th falls on a Saturday they plan on meeting around 10 a.m. to begin putting the flags up.
"We are excited that we've made it to the 10th anniversary," Griggs said. "People's enthusiasm has not faded. We have, over the years, had to monitor as new light poles have gone in around the loop and around 48th Street.
"We've had to add more flags, more poles and more hardware, but we have every intention of continuing on until someone tells us to stop I guess."
Griggs says over the years they've received many positive comments about what they're doing. They often hear honks and remarks as they are out setting up the flags.
One year a man even stopped to thank the group for what they were doing, on behalf of his father who was a disabled veteran.
"He went on to explain how his father was a disabled war vet and his dad just sometimes felt as if there wasn't enough patriotism or evidence of people that love their county," Griggs said. "He said, ‘My dad would just be thrilled with this, he loves to hear about people who have respect for their country.' I said we'd be willing to give you a flag if you'd like and he was just so thrilled. He said he would take it and put it up some place prevalent in his dad's yard."
Griggs said the Mormon church supports patriotism not only for personal reasons but for doctrinal reasons. They're often looking for ways to serve the community.
"Going back to the fundamentals of the church organization in the 1800s, respect for the law of the land and a general feeling that the Constitution of the United States is an inspired document, that permeates the church doctrine and culture in the United States," Griggs said. "The notion that one should be devoted to their country and seek to uphold the Constitution are very deeply ingrained in church culture."
That love for country can be seen in the teenagers who help set up the flags. Griggs said they've never had trouble getting kids to come out and help.
"This is one of our activities where we don't have to coerce them to be here," Riggs said. "We don't have to convince them that it's going to be fun or they should make a sacrifice to be here. They know this activity is coming and they jump right in without any difficulty. A lot of them have been quite moved by the overwhelming positive reaction we get while we are out on the loop."
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