EMMITSBURG, MD - In the shadow of a huge statue, Billy Eisengrein posed for pictures and signed autographs Monday morning.
The FDNY firefighter, one of three who raised the flag in the ruins of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, spoke a few minutes with everyone who approached. He said it was the least he could do.
Eisengrein sat anonymously in the crowd of more than 500 Monday morning for the dedication of the monument - To Lift a Nation -- that depicts the historic moment.
He and the others have stayed out of the spotlight, fearing the attention would be on them, not their brothers who perished during the most successful rescue effort on record.
"We've all wanted to remain anonymous," he said. "It's not about us."
Eisengrein said he, Daniel McWilliams and George Johnson didn't know that someone was taking pictures when they raised the flag in the WTC rubble. "We didn't know at the time it would make such a difference..."
A day or so later, someone told him that his picture was in the paper. "I thought it was no big deal. I had been in the paper before. Then, they told me it was huge and nearly the whole front page."
"Now, I'm glad someone captured that moment in time."
Eisengrein said he is pleased the monument has been placed on the grounds of the National Fire Academy in close proximity to the National Fallen Firefighters' Memorial.
"This is perfect, very fitting."
Bob Carlo, whose son, FDNY Firefighter Michael Carlo, was killed in the tower collapse described the monument as awesome and "a wonderful tribute."
Carlo's voice cracked with emotion as he thanked people for supporting not only his family, but others who lost loved ones in the terrorist attacks.
"...I speak for my family, my son and his 342 brothers. I'm sure they are smiling down on us right now."
FDNY Deputy Chief John Jonas looked around, and remarked that the brilliant Sept. 11 sky was shining down on the monument, a "powerful image that represents courage and heroism."
He said the events were an awakening to America about what the fire service does on a daily basis. The deputy chief spoke briefly about what he experienced at the WTC that day.
"I witnessed it in their faces. It was as if the calvary had arrived...It was comforting to me when I was trapped in the north tower to know that they were coming to save me and my men..."
IAFC Second Vice President Larry Grorud said the monument will help lift the spirit of the American people, just as the gesture did in 2001.
Norman Hoeft, representing the National Volunteer Fire Council, said the Lift a Nation monument will compliment the memorial park. He congratulated those involved for chosing the site.
Kim Corpany, associate sculptor, said it was gratifying to see the project unveiled. But, more importantly, to see what it means to nation's firefighters.
She said all the long hours were well worth it.
Sculptor Stan Watts said he, as all Americans, was moved the instant he saw the photograph. When his wife suggested the project, he first thought it was an endeavor he didn't want to tackle.
"Sometimes, your projects chose you," he said.
He recalled meeting the three firefighters and their attorney. To his dismay, they asked him not to do it. Watts told them it was not for them. "It's for us and for generations to come..."
FEMA Director R. David Paulison said the three firefighters raising the flag sent a powerful message to everyone - Never Give Up."