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Online auction for disputed 9-11 flag on again

David Nicholson said he was told the flag was hanging from a construction crane on 9-11.
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A dispute about the authenticity of a flag is stirring emotions.
eBay Incorporated
September 11, 2001

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A U.S. flag, whose owner said it flew over the Pentagon on 9-11, was for sale online again Wednesday despite questions about its authenticity.

David Nicholson said he got the flag from a construction worker, who told him it was flying from a crane outside the Pentagon when a hijacked jetliner slammed into the building.

Nicholson has kidney cancer and says he's selling the flag to pay his medical bills and provide for his family.

Bidders on the Internet auction site eBay offered as much as $371,300 for the flag earlier this week. But families of those killed in the al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington objected to the sale, and the winning bidder withdrew after lawyers for the construction company questioned whether the flag was ever at the Pentagon.

Nicholson put the flag back up for sale on Tuesday, but noted that Facchina Construction Co. has denied the "certificate of authenticity" that accompanies the banner. The starting price for the flag was posted at $25,000, but no bids were recorded Wednesday afternoon. Nicholson said bidders' identities would not be disclosed this time.

Nicholson says the flag came in a box of construction material he got in 2002 from a man named Pete Elliot, an employee of Facchina Construction Co.. Elliot wrote a letter of authenticity on company letterhead that states the flag "was flying on our crane at the Pentagon on 9-11-01."

But Maryland-based Facchina says it didn't have a crane at the Pentagon that day, and that Elliot was reprimanded for signing the statement.

"Either it was there or it wasn't, and I would like to know the truth," Nicholson said.

Efforts to contact Elliot for his comment on the matter were unsuccessful.

Todd Schimmel, a private investor from Minnesota, said he dropped his $371,300 bid for the flag when he learned that the company disavowed the statement of authenticity Nicholson advertised with the document.

In an e-mail to CNN, the man called the flag a "fake" and declared, "I will have no part in this."

"I was going to buy the flag for an investment," he wrote. "It stands for the strength the United States has, and how no one can take that away." But he said he changed his mind after he received e-mails directing him to a statement from Facchina Construction.

Nicholson said the company put pressure on the employee to deny the flag's authenticity after families of the 9/11 victims complained. He said he and his family have left their home temporarily because they were concerned about staying in the same house with an item potentially worth nearly $400,000.

He told CNN that when he briefly returned to his home last week, he was attacked by someone who beat him nearly unconscious.

Orange County Sheriff C.G. Feldman said his deputies are investigating his claim, but have found no evidence to support it so far.

An American flag that was draped over the damaged side of the building during reconstruction work is now in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

Members of 9/11 Families for America, a group of victims' relatives, say they object to the sale of artifacts from the attacks even if they are genuine. Craig Sincock, whose wife Cheryle died at the Pentagon, said he is furious that his wife's name -- which is part of a display accompanying Nicholson's flag -- is being used "in order to gain money."

"So many of us are just now starting to crawl out from under that grief," Sincock said. "And every time something like this hits, we take another step backwards."

But Nicholson told CNN that families should understand.

"I say that until they are in my shoes, they can't -- they don't know how I feel," he said.

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr and producers Larry Shaugnessy and Phil Hirschkorn contributed to this report.

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