Pilots Peter Maniscalco, Sam Irvin, and Steven Verdi flew the Tribute Flag over all three 9/11 crash sites in memory of those who died in the attacks, including their friend and fellow pilot Victor Saracini.
BUCKS COUNTY — During his last conversation with his friend and fellow pilot Victor Saracini in late July 2001, Peter Maniscalco turned down an invitation to visit Saracini in Atlantic City, where the Jersey Shore native was vacationing with his family.
“He came to my daughter’s Christening and invited me,” said Maniscalco, a retired American Airlines pilot who first met Saracini at Louisiana Tech University in the early ‘80s when they were both flight instructors. “I told him I couldn’t come because I was too busy. I’ve always regretted that.”
Sam Irvin did accept an invitation to Atlantic City from Saracini that July and has fond memories of what would be the last time he would see his friend and fellow United Airlines pilot.
“He knew this great Italian bakery,” said Irvin, a retired lieutenant colonel with the Air Force Reserve who still flies for United. “He brought me into the back of the bakery at 11 at night to get the bread when it was fresh out of the oven.”
Another longtime friend of Saracini, American Airlines pilot Steven Verdi, doesn’t recall a last conversation, only because the pair talked so often.
“I honestly don’t remember because we talked almost every other day,” Verdi said. “We saw each other all the time. He was in Yardley, I was in Newtown. Our families were close.”
Maniscalco, Irvin, and Verdi are forever bonded by their friendship with Saracini, who was killed when the Boston-to-Los Angeles flight he was piloting for United on Sept. 11, 2001 was hijacked by al-Qaida terrorists and flown into the South Tower of the World Trade Center in New York.
Saracini was one of 18 people from Bucks County to die in the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people overall. The Bucks County victims are honored at the Garden of Reflection 9/11 Memorial in Lower Makefield, which was dedicated as an official 9/11 memorial site in September 2006.
On the eve of the 20th anniversary of 9/11 Friday, Maniscalco, Irvin, and Verdi were on hand at the Garden of Reflection 9/11 Memorial for a ceremony honoring another unique bond they share. In September 2006, the three pilots collaborated to fly an American flag known as the Tribute Flag over all three 9/11 crash sites — the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon in Washington, DC, and the open field in Shanksville, Somerset County — and the Garden of Reflection.
The Tribute Flag is believed to be the only American flag flown over all three crash sites. Maniscalco, Irvin, and Verdi delivered the Tribute Flag to the Garden of Reflection on Friday and hoisted it before lowering the flag to half-mast before a crowd of about 200 people, including Victor Saracini’s widow, Ellen.
“To be able to have these three pilots here, who were Victor’s friends, is wonderful,” said Saracini, who serves as chairperson of the Garden of Reflection’s board of directors.”They stood up after Sept. 11 and made this journey over all three sites, and then over the Garden of Reflection. They’re honoring Victor’s memory.”
The Tribute Flag’s historic journey began on a New York-to-Miami American Airlines flight for which Verdi had received permission to fly over the World Trade Center Site. Irvin was the next to transport the flag. With the help of air traffic controllers, he was able to route the Air Force B-17 plane he was piloting over the Pentagon, while headed from a training mission in the south to the former McGuire Air Force Base in Burlington County, New Jersey.
For the final leg of the Tribute Flag’s voyage, Maniscalco piloted a private plane from New Jersey to Shanksville, with Ellen Sarancini and the couple’s daughter Brielle among those on board.
“We flew straight from Mercer County Airport to Shanksville,” Maniscalco said. “Once we were above Shanksville, we opened a little window on the side of the plane and Ellen dropped some rose petals out as we circled around the site. It was an emotional tribute.”
Prior to Friday’s ceremony, Verdi had been keeping the Tribute Flag in his home office, enclosed in a case he constructed. Ultimately, Verdi said they would like to find a more permanent home for the Tribute Flag. Until a suitable location is found, he’s more than happy to keep watch over a flag that reminds him to never forget his fallen friend, or any of the other people who died in the 9/11 attacks.
“At some point, we’ll find a museum where we’ll want to keep it permanently,” Verdi said. “But I’ve gotten very protective of it. I notice it every day. I stop and reflect. I think about Victor. I think about Ellen — she lives this every day. I live it a lot. It’s not an issue for us. We will never forget. But maybe with other people, it isn’t always at the front of their mind. The Tribute Flag and events like this bring it up again and help people to never forget.”