Everything seemed to come together perfectly as if it was it meant to be.
In mid-May, Scott Belt talked with Morris Mayor Richard Kopczick about a 9/11 memorial flag in Morris that was about to be retired after being badly frayed by weather.
Belt, a Morris attorney, had another idea. That idea came to fruition on Friday about seven miles from Key West, Florida. That was when Belt, his daughter, Jenna, and Morris Judge Lance Peterson – along with 10 other scuba divers – put the U.S. flag on the sunken ship, USNS Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg. Belt also took pictures and videos of the event.
“I am proud and honored,” Kopczick said. “Instead of getting it destroyed, in a proper way, it now has time to be recommissioned. ...The best part about it is, it will be at no cost to the city. It is all being done by private donations.”
“The timing on this was wonderful...and the mayor reached out to the aldermen,” Belt said. “They not only approved of it, but they’re excited about the fact that the city of Morris is essentially donating a flag – giving it a new purpose in the National Marine Sanctuary.”
The flag also is the largest American flag to be placed on an underwater vessel, said Belt, who did some research on the topic before Friday.
The flag was originally 30 feet high and 60 feet wide, but it became 30 feet by 40 feet after it had been mended.
Friday morning’s event went very well, Belt said. Weather conditions and underwater visibility were excellent.
“The hanging of the flag went like clockwork,” he said.
The Vandenberg, which began as the USS Gen. Harry Taylor, was built in 1943. After a very historic life, it was purposely sunk on May 27, 2009, to become the second largest artificial reef in the world.
Peterson noted how massive and impressive the ship is, estimating he has dived to it “eight to 12 times.”
“This is really neat,” he said. “I think the community, when they realize what is happening, will be proud to have that connection (with the ship).”
Belt first came upon the idea of the new use for the flag when he talked with Bond Henry, a Navy lieutenant commander who also dives in the area. The two men made connections in March after Henry saw one of Belt’s photos hanging in a dive shop in Florida.
Henry called it an “amazing picture.” The photograph depicts a U.S. flag on the Vandenberg along with two divers (including Peterson), and he saw Belt’s name on it. So, Henry asked the shop worker how he could reach Belt because he wanted to purchase a copy. Belt gave him two 11-by-14 photos.
“I want to personally thank the city of Morris for the honor of being able to be part of this,” Henry said.
“I’m real appreciative of the fact that Bond reached out to make contact,” Belt added. “It all started with a simple request for a photo which I was glad to accommodate. ...It’s a tremendous experience and I think it is also a terrific gesture on the part of the city.”
Belt said the flag from Morris in its new place on the Vandenberg “will allow it to continue to serve the country and memorialize those who were lost on 9/11 and honor our military veterans and, obviously, our independence.”