On Sept. 11, 2001, Joe Quinn was a fourth-year cadet at West Point. His older brother James was a new hire at Cantor Fitzgerald, working at the World Trade Center.
James, 23, never made it home from the investment bank’s 104th floor office, and his remains were never found.
Joe went off to serve two tours in Iraq.
“My life hasn’t stopped changing since that day,” said Joe. “I think it’s the reason I do what I do.”
Out of the sadness came a purpose: The annual Old Glory Relay, a 4,600-mile coast-to-coast mission that transports a single American flag from Seattle to Tampa.
This year’s event, the fourth organized by Quinn and his partners at “Team Red, White & Blue,” covers 62 days and involves more than 70 teams of veterans taking turns along the way.
The non-profit veterans’ service organization raises funds for Team RWB’s mission to assist America’s veterans by creating a connection with their local communities.
The group, founded in 2010, claims more than 108,000 members from 187 communities. Team RWB helps veterans deal with depression, PTSD and other mental health concerns once they return home from war.
Roughly one in four veterans struggles with mental health issues of some kind.
The timing of the event, on the anniversary of 9/11, is no accident. As Quinn notes, many of the nation’s youngest veterans served in post-9/11 fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“So many people joined the military after 9/11,” said Quinn. “Wars started because of 9/11...This is the very least I can do for the men and women who do make it home.”
Quinn recalled traveling the 59 miles to Ground Zero from the U.S. Military Academy on the day after the 2001 attacks, desperate to find his missing sibling.
“You can’t help but feel a sense of guilt and responsiblity,” he said.
The event is also meant to keep the memory of 9/11 alive, to remind people of the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
Quinn, a regular attendee at the yearly Ground Zero memorial service, can’t help but notice the dwindling crowds each Sept. 11.
“It’s natural that kind of initial interest has waned,” he said. “The first year, the first two or three years, it was almost a carnival-like atmosphere.
“By year five, it was family and friends. That’s not good or bad, it is what it is.”
The run this year will go through Texas and finish in Florida — two areas pummeled by hurricanes this summer. Brooklyn-born Quinn, 37, said Team RWB’s message of unity applied to the storm-ravaged states as well as America’s veterans.
“The timing of it, with the flag coming through Texas and Florida, hopefully will buoy spirits,” said Quinn. “It’s really about unifying the country, as well as unifying the veterans.
“The country is more disconnected than ever, and there’s no better visual for that than seeing one veteran hand off the flag to another American.”
Quinn can’t help but think back on his brother each September as he prepares for the Team RWB event.
“I always think of him, and how far we’ve come,” he said.