Flag at overpass in honor of 9/11 victims to reach 125 mark on Sept. 11

This Sunday's 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks will mark the 125th time a group of Catonsville residents led by Harry Korrell have performed their monthly ritual of flying an American flag on the Frederick Road bridge over Interstate 695.

It may also mark the last time the group will wave the flag at the side of the busy Catonsville road.

"I think we decided that this will be it," Korrell said of the group's 10 years of appearances at the bridge on the 11th of each month.

In the weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, Korrell, a Navy veteran, said he tried to make it a daily reminder.

"(We wanted) to remind people that we're a nation at war," he said.

But he and his group soon realized that level of effort was unsustainable.

They agreed, Korrell said, to wave the flag on the 11th of each month.

They start at 8:45 a.m., about the time the World Trade Center's North Tower was struck by the pirated American Airlines flight 11.

The group, which normally has several people in addition to Korrell, stays for two hours.

They leave 30 minutes after the time the South Tower collapsed, about when the North Tower fell.

Over the years, their actions have evolved. Instead of holding a 12-foot metal pole to display the 3-by-5-foot flag in cold weather, for example, Korrell uses bungee cords to secure the flag to a fence.

But the group has not missed an 11th of the month, enduring the cold of winter, the heat and humidity of Baltimore's summers, extreme temperatures and torrential downpours.

Korrell, 74, recalled one time when he and his group stood in a cold rain that soaked through their jackets.

"Four or five of us went up to some coffee shop on Frederick Road, pouring water out of our boots and having coffee and water running every where," said Korrell, a life-long Catonsville resident. "People looked at us like, 'Are you some kind of nuts?' Yeah."

Asked if he would miss his monthly ritual whenever it ends, Korrell joked about enjoying being home on days like February 11, 2003.

He called that day "colder than the jaws of hell."

Eugene and Gertrude Shaver, 85 and 84, respectively, said they have missed only a handful of the 124 flag wavings leading up to Sunday's event.

"We didn't want to let anything stop us from doing it," said Eugene, an Army veteran who was in the south Pacific and the Philippines during World War II. "So we just bundled up."

Participants, not politics, welcome

It isn't uncommon, Shaver said, for motorists on Frederick Road or on the Beltway below to honk in appreciation as they drive by.

Occasionally the support becomes more visible.

"We've had people pull over, give us coffee and doughnuts and ask what we're doing," Korrell said.

"Sometimes they come back and wave with us," he said.

Korrell has few rules for the monthly outings, but he enforces one with vigilance.

Korrell, a one-time candidate to represent the 1st District on the County Council and a member of the Patapsco Valley Republican Club, like many of those who join him in waving the flag, said he and the club have used the bridge to display political signs during an election season.

But he has been adamant that there would be no such politicizing from that venue on the 11th of the month.

"It is nonpartisan. Totally. …," Korrell said. "We've had people show up from time to time during the campaigns for this or that, and they are asked to get rid of the (campaign) T-shirt or watch from the sidelines."

For Korrell, this event is about patriotism, not politics.

Patriotism has gurgled in Korrell's blood from his youth, when he listened to news of World War II on the radio, he said.

The war, he noted, inspired him to enter the Naval Academy and serve in the Navy for 34 years. He retired as a captain in 1989.

With the country reeling in the first weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Korrell said, he asked to re-enlist in the Navy.

Then 64, he figured he could take a desk job, enabling someone younger and more physically able to play a more active role.

Rejected, he decided to show his loyalty to his country, and to give others, commuting to work and school, a similar opportunity.

Making patriotism prominent

The spot where Catonsville's busy main street crosses the Beltway seemed ideal.

"There is no other intersection that has the attributes this one has," Korrell said, citing its high traffic volume and visibility.

But in recent months, that spot has been under siege with construction getting underway to renovate and widen the bridge.

Talks of ending their flag-waving run began as his group discussed moving to another site.

But nothing was as appealing as the spot they had already staked out.

"Trying to move somewhere else doesn't have the same punch," Korrell said.

Continuing the monthly ritual at their present site wouldn't be a problem, said Lora Rakowski, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

"Pedestrian access is being maintained on the bridge throughout the project," Rakowski said. "There will be sidewalks (on the south side of the bridge). Certainly the group will be allowed access as pedestrians on the bridge."

Kenneth Konder, of Woodlawn, said he has teamed with Korrell many times over the years for the monthly event.

He said he would like for the tradition to continue, but understands that may not be realistic.

"I would like to. But I'm getting older, Harry's getting older and it's getting difficult," Konder, 69, said. "It's enjoyable doing it because you get quite a response from the people going across the Beltway."

Konder said the group has discussed meeting annually to wave the flag.

And whether it changes from 12 times a year to once, he says the group has had a good run.

And it's still not a certainty they'll stop.

"We might not. Who knows?" Korrell said. "At least we made it 10 years."

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