'Freeport flag ladies' wave Stars and Stripes one final time

FILE - In this Aug. 23, 2011, file photo, the Freeport Flag Ladies, Carmen Footer, from left, JoAnn Miller and Elaine Greene, wave to vehicles in Freeport, Maine. The three women who've been waving the Stars and Stripes each week since the 9/11 attacks are folding up their flags in Freeport, Maine. The tradition started after the terrorist attacks 18 year ago. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 10, 2004, file photo, The "Freeport Flag Ladies" leave a campaign rally for President Bush in Lewiston, Maine. From left are Carmen Footer, Elaine Greene and JoAnn Miller, all of Freeport, Maine. The three women who've been waving the Stars and Stripes each week since the 9/11 attacks are folding up their flags in Freeport, Maine. The tradition started after the terrorist attacks 18 year ago. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

FREEPORT, Maine — After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush encouraged a reeling nation to light candles in honor of the victims.

Elaine Greene and two friends joined the hordes in a candlelight vigil, but not before she stopped to grab an old flag that was behind her Maine home's front door.

With tears in her eyes, she raised the flag tentatively.

Motorists honked their approval.

The simple act has played out weekly ever since, through snow and ice, sickness and health, over 18 years. And it's playing out for a final time Wednesday.

Dubbed the "Freeport flag ladies," the trio is reluctantly giving in to age and ending the Main Street tradition. Greene is the youngest at 74 and battles Crohn's disease. Carmen Footer, 77, recently recovered from open heart surgery. JoAnn Miller, 83, has foot problems.

"It was up to me to call it, and I called it," Greene said.

Greene described their calling as a mission of love, gratitude and patriotism, and it went far beyond waving their flags on a street corner near L.L. Bean. They mailed care packages to military personnel deployed overseas in the war on terrorism. They greeted military personnel at airports. They visited the wounded. And they attended funerals.

They saw people at their worst while dealing with loss. And they witnessed how tragedy can also bring out the best in many people, Greene said.

Over the years, their work became their lives. They appeared alongside presidents. They spoke to schoolchildren. The home that the three share is full of patriotic memorabilia and letters from military personnel. It's been years since they dressed in anything other than red, white and blue.

Greene, whose glasses are red, white and blue, said she wouldn't change a thing. After all, she said, the flag waving was the answer to a prayer.

After 9/11, she knew the nation had come under an attack unlike anything since Pearl Harbor. She said she wanted to do something to help, and something told her to grab that flag behind the door.

She remains in awe that a simple gesture grew into something big.

"You can either bring a light into the room, or walk into a room that's dark and keep it dark," she said. "I prefer to bring a light into the room. It takes only but a little match to do that. You don't have to have a great big idea. You just have to be sincere."

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