In 2001, Challenger, the celebrity educational ambassador Bald Eagle, visited Ground Zero two weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and several times since. This eagle, and the American Eagle Foundation that cares for him, were invited by George Steinbrenner to appear at the first New York Yankees home game after the historic World Trade Center tragedy and every game at Yankee Stadium thereafter through the 2001 World Series (Yankees vs. Diamondbacks). His job was to perform a ceremonial free flight through the stadium during “The Star Spangled Banner” to honor the victims and fallen heroes of 9/11 and help raise the spirits of all affected Americans. Each majestic flight was televised worldwide.
During that time, this symbolic bird and his handlers also made a special effort to not only visit Ground Zero with a police escort, but also numerous rescue centers and fire and police stations in Manhattan to help inspire and comfort all those who were physically and emotionally affected by the tragedy. The celebrity eagle was even issued his own FEMA photo ID card that enabled him to enter many of the rescue centers in the Big Apple.
“After Challenger’s rehearsals and game flights at Yankee Stadium during that Fall baseball season, our staff would often make time to visit a number of the most affected fire stations — in terms of individuals lost,” said American Eagle Foundation Founder & President Al Cecere. “We would simply walk in unannounced with Challenger perched on my glove. This frequently brought immediate tears to the eyes of many solemn firefighters and police officers who would often say ‘That’s what it’s all about… God Bless America,’ with a sincere smile of hope on their faces.”
On Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, the 15th anniversary of that tragic day, Challenger will soar over the crowd during the “The Star Spangled Banner” before the Baltimore Ravens vs. Buffalo Bills football game at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, M.D.