By Kenneth Barilari
It has been 15 years, and September 11, 2001 remains as heavy in our hearts as it has ever been. While we remember those affected by that tragic day and feel sorrow for the brothers and sisters we lost, we also remember the unity that came after. Thomas E. Franklin is the photographer that took the iconic photo, “Raising the Flag at Ground Zero.” The photo, which shows three firemen raising the American flag at the site, has largely become a symbol of hope.
Thomas E. Franklin, Assistant Professor in Multi-platform Journalism at Montclair State University, realized his passion for photography in college. “I was studying art. I took a photography class and really liked it,” he explains. He then got a job at with a newspaper in the dark room printing pictures. He calls this his introduction to photojournalism.
Franklin, a Bergen County resident, was working as a photojournalist with The Bergen Record in September 2001, and has been for 23 years. That morning, he started out in his office at The Record. After the first plane hit, he initiated a commute Manhattan. Then, the second plane hit. “The crossings were closed, so I took photos in Jersey City.” These photos show the tragedy unfolding from across the water. “Sometime in the early afternoon, I was able to get there by boat.”
Upon arriving to the site, Franklin recalls a scene of absolute horror. “The amount of damage was enormous,” he says. “There was wreckage everywhere. It was a very dramatic scene.” He started taking photos, but with everything happening around him, he wasn’t focused on the potential these pictures carried. “I had just seen the two largest buildings in the world come crashing down, killing thousands of people,” he recalls.
Franklin took many striking images that day, capturing moments in U.S. history that will never be forgotten. One shot stands out. Three rescue firefighters raising the American flag at Ground Zero quickly turned into a message for the American people. This message was that life, as impossible as it may seem, will go on and we will get through this together.
The flag raising photo has done a tremendous amount of good, which Franklin is proud of. It was used on a U.S. postage stamp, which helped raise 10 million dollars for victims. This year in particular, Franklin says that he received a tremendous amount of kind words and words of support. People used social media especially to relay how much the photo means to them.
Franklin is a very busy man. He has been working on a new project for which he has been following refugee families that have been relocated to Elizabeth. He has reported on how religious groups have friended Muslim families, forming friendships and raising money for them. “Coming to the country as a refugee, having nothing and knowing no one, is very difficult,” he says. “Synagogues have stepped in to provide friendship and support.”
The flag raising photo itself remains bittersweet to Franklin. While he wishes the events that led to the photograph never took place, he remembers that the photo has done a great deal of good and helped a tremendous amount of people.