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9/11 Anniversary

Iconic 9/11 Flag, Missing for Years, Will Return to Ground Zero

This Long Lost Iconic Ground Zero Flag Has Been Found 1:36

A 3- by 5-foot U.S. flag hoisted by firefighters at the scene of the destroyed World Trade Center after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, will go back on display Thursday — 15 years after it mysteriously disappeared.

IMAGE: Postage stamp of 9/11 flag photo
The famous Bergen Record photo is memorialized on a U.S. postage stamp. U.S. Postal Service via AP

The flag, whose raising was recorded in an immortal picture by a photographer for The Bergen Record, a New Jersey newspaper, will be unveiled Thursday at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, built on the site of Ground Zero in New York.

"Listen, this is the most famous flag of the 21st century," said Brad Meltzer, host of "Lost History" on the the History Channel, which will air a documentary on its recovery Sunday — the 15th anniversary of the attacks.

IMAGE: Mystery man who donated 9/11 flag
A sketch of the man known only as 'Brian' who turned in the missing flag two years ago who donated 9/11 flag. Everett, Wash., Police Department

The flag surfaced two years ago in Everett, Wash. when a mystery man known only as "Brian" turned it in at a fire station.

He said he was a Marine who had served in Iraq, The Everett Herald reported. He said he'd been given the flag on Veterans Day 2007 by someone from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who in turn had received it from the widow of a victim of the attacks.

He said he was motivated by an episode of Meltzer's show about the missing flag.

Two Everett police detectives safeguarded the precious banner until last month when a 9/11 Museum curator showed up to collect it, The Herald reported.

Since then, specialists have gone over every millimeter to determine that it's the famous flag — even microscopically examining the years-old dust still clinging to it.

IMAGE: 9/11 flag forensics report
A forensics report details identifiers found on the flag believed to be the missing banner from Sept. 11, 2001. NBC News

"The dust and debris that was on that flag was consistent with dust and debris at Ground Zero," Everett Fire Chief Dan Templeman said.

Tom Franklin, the Bergen Record photographer who took the famous picture on Sept. 11, 2001, now teaches journalism at Montclair State University in New Jersey. To him, it's fitting that the flag is back near Ground Zero, where the first responders found and hoisted it 15 years ago.

"The symbolism of what they did in raising that flag resonates with people," he said.