SAN DIEGO - The United States Honor Flag arrived by aircraft Monday at Lindbergh Field, where it was greeted by San Diego-area firefighters and police officers, who will drive it to Arizona.
The officers are driving the flag to Prescott, Ariz., so it can be displayed Tuesday at a memorial service for 19 firefighters who were killed June 30 while battling a nearly 8,400-acre wildfire in central-west Arizona, according to San Diego police Sgt. Mike Pidgeon.
The fallen firefighters were part of a Prescott-based hotshot squad that was overtaken by flames due to a sudden wind shift. Only one member of the team survived.
The honor flag arrived from Dallas to San Diego via American Airlines Flight 1413 late Monday morning. San Diego city police and firefighters, along with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department's Honor Guard and the San Diego Firefighters Emerald Society Pipe and Drum Band, met the flag at the arrival gate and took possession of it from the aircraft captain.
"This flag represents that from tragedy and loss we can be reborn into something great, and that's what it represents to us," said Pidgeon.
The pilot of the plane presented the folded flag to Sheriff's Deputy John Kelleher.
"First responders are all the same; we put our lives on the line so when we lose one, it's like losing family," Kelleher said.
Following the exchange, uniformed officers, the honor guard and band formed a procession through the airport to their vehicles, which were waiting outside Terminal 2.
The flag previously came through San Diego for a memorial when SDPD Officer Jeremy Henwood was killed in the line of duty.
"That's one of the reasons it came through here; we had it before and Arizona has a lot on its plate in dealing with the memorial for 19 fallen firefighters killed while fighting the wildfire there," Pidgeon said.
The exact origin of the honor flag is controversial, but it has traveled about the country to various events honoring fallen heroes for more than 10 years.
Texan Chris Heisler, a post-9/11 Army vet, claims he received the flag from the Texas House of Representatives after he organized a caravan to Ground Zero consisting of police officers from various states. The officers delivered flags from their states and Heisler delivered an American flag that would go on to be dubbed by Heisler the United States Honor Flag.
Texas state officials have refuted Heisler's claim, saying there is no documentation that a flag of any kind was ever gifted to Heisler.
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