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Pepperdine's Flag Display Honors 9/11 Victims | Ventura County Star

Pepperdine's flag display honors 9/11 victims

Sean Greene, Ventura County Star

Photo: Ron Hall, Pepperdine UniversityMALIBU, Calif. - One after another, volunteers slid metal flagpoles onto rebar holders until the sounds of metal scraping on metal gave way to the pattering of the nearly 3,000 flags in the wind.

On Saturday, volunteers helped transform Pepperdine University's Alumni Park into an expansive memorial for the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Overlooking Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, the display has drawn the attention of passing motorists every September for six years.

The flags are meant to add beauty and order in the face of chaos and evil, organizers said. They're placed without any explanation. Instead, they speak for themselves – 2,977 flags, including 90 international flags, each representing an individual killed in the attacks.

The Waves of Flag display became a Pepperdine tradition in 2008 when the College Republicans, inspired by a similar display, wanted to bring the tribute to the university.

Matt Sugar, a Pepperdine senior, said he fell in love with the idea during his freshman year – after it already went up. He soon went to work for Doug Hurley, director of Student Activities, and the Student Activities office responsible for organizing Waves of Flags.

"I think it's one of the coolest things that Pepperdine does to honor the ones we lost," Sugar said.

Work on the display usually begins weeks in advance. Guided by GPS, a surveyor marks points every eight feet. Volunteers drill down through dirt and rock, and then hammer in a 4-foot piece of rebar.

This year prep took eight days. Actually placing the flags took about an hour.

Dean of Students Mark Davis, who wore a blue volunteer's shirt on Saturday, said he's impressed that students initiated the tribute as a way to bring the community together.

"It makes me proud and hopeful of the new leadership of America," Davis said. "They're people who want to unite people rather than continue to see the world divided."

Hurley, director of Student Activities and the "mastermind" behind Waves of Flags, takes particular pride in setting up the display, straightening flags and cutting loose zip ties.

"Every single piece of rebar needs to be perfect," he said. "I will be here until the sun goes down. I will make sure everything is perfect, at least on the first day.

"This is beautiful, simple and orderly. There's so much chaos and disorder and this is an opportunity to create something beautiful."

Rich Garber, a former chief medic for the U.S. Marines, volunteered with his wife, setting up flags and unfurling ones still wound around their poles.

Garber served in Iraq three times before 9/11, then went to Afghanistan the day after the attacks. "So this means a lot to me to help," he said.

"9/11 feels like yesterday mainly because of memories I have. But this gives me chills," Garber said, pointing to the flags. "At night … it gives you a felling you can't really explain, like a candle that won't go out."

Garber held a bundle of flags he'd just fetched from the truck. "One of these is going to be for my buddy Leon Johnson, who saved my life," he said.

Garber rolled the flagpoles through his hands. "I just feel it's this one," he said before he planted it down. "That's for Leon." He hurried off with the rest.

The display will be up until Sept. 23. Visitors are welcome to park along the PCH and walk among the flags.