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9/11 flag heralds funeral service for youngest Arizona shooting victim

By the CNN Wire Staff
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9/11 flag raised at Green memorial
  • NEW: Christina Green's family arrives at funeral, passes under flag
  • The flag was damaged when one of the World Trade Center towers fell
  • It's being restored using flags recovered from other disasters

(CNN) -- A flag that was nearly destroyed in the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, was raised outside of the funeral service Thursday for 9-year-old Christina Green, who was born on that fateful day.

The banner, which measures 20 feet high and 30 feet wide, was draped between the extended ladders of two fire trucks outside the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in Tucson, Arizona, forming an arch under which Christina's family passed as they arrived ahead of the 1 p.m. (3 p.m. ET) service.

John and Roxanna Green, Christina's parents; and her 11-year-old brother, Dallas, paused for a few moments to look up at the flag as it rippled against the clear blue sky. A few minutes later, more relatives emerged from the same black SUV limousine that brought her immediate family, also craning their necks to take in the huge banner.

The young girl was killed Saturday when a gunman fired on a crowd at a congresswoman's meet-and-greet event in Tucson. Five others also died, and 13 -- including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona -- were wounded.

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Remembering Tucson's youngest victim

The flag topped a building near the South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York, and was heavily damaged by falling debris when the tower crumbled after hijacked airliners crashed into it and its twin. Many remember the images of the tattered banner, fluttering heroically above the debris and smoke in the days after the towers' collapse.

Soon after, the shredded flag was removed and put in storage until 2008, when a member of the New York Says Thank You Foundation recovered it and took it to Greensburg, Kansas. Foundation volunteers were there to help residents of the small town complete some rebuilding projects more than a year after a strong tornado devastated the region.

According to Jeff Parness, the founder and chairman of the foundation, it was a way to say "thank you" to some of the townspeople who had come to New York in the aftermath of the terror attacks to help there.

According to the group's website, while foundation members worked to rebuild the town, residents began to repair what is now called the National 9/11 Flag by patching it with flags recovered from the tornado rubble.

Since then, the banner has traveled across the country, gathering flags from other disasters that are stitched on by survivors and other groups. It even includes part of a flag upon which a dying Abraham Lincoln was laid, the foundation said.

Parness said the idea to display the flag at Christina's funeral came to him when he heard an interview with her mother, Roxanna, who spoke about how her daughter always looked for the positives that came out of the 9/11 attacks.

"She would refer to her birthday as a holiday," Parness quoted Roxanna Green as saying.

"When I heard more about her sense of service and volunteerism and the community spirit, her love of government, we just realized we had to have this flag at Christina's funeral," he told CNN.

Parness contacted the family's pastor, who conveyed the offer, and the Greens accepted.

"We both let out a gasp of emotion, because, you know, that meant a lot to us," Christina's father, John Green, told CNN. "And for them to extend that courtesy to our daughter ... again, it's just another one of those things that will help for us. We feel like the country won't forget her."

Parness says the flag is really more of a symbol of 9/12, instead of 9/11.

It shows "what it looks like when Americans come together and help each other recover from tragedy and disaster," he explained.

"When you look at this beautiful flag, it shows what it's like when you connect all these people. We had a father on December 7 in Hawaii, Pearl Harbor Day, who stitched the flag in Pearl Harbor. He lost his son in Afghanistan," Parness said.

He said newly naturalized citizens would help with the stitching on Friday at the Martin Luther King Center in Atlanta, Georgia.

"It's about bringing people together and showing what's possible out of a tragedy like this."

Citing Christina's love of helping other people, Parness said "kids get it."

"They understand when people are in need, what can you do to help. After the funeral and as the community in Tucson and the country starts to heal after this, we're going to look back and say, what could we do, the simplest thing every day, to make Christina smile on us? Just to be kind to your neighbor, volunteer."

"In a bizarre way, this is a tremendous gift that Christina is giving to us, to show the country this flag, to ... let people in local communities nominate service heroes to place a stitch in this flag so we can heal it and make this flag whole again by the 10-year anniversary" this September, Parness said.

CNN's Alanne Orjoux contributed to this report

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