Pepperdine University’s ‘Waves of Flags’ honor 9/11 victims

It is a beautiful-yet-solemn sight:

Several thousand American flags waving in the ocean breeze on a Malibu hillside looking over the Pacific Ocean.

The evocative scene sprung up recently on the lawn of Pepperdine University, as it does every September, to honor those who died in the 9/11 attacks — which was 20 years ago this Saturday.

Each American flag represents the life of one of the 2,977 people who died on Sept. 11, 2001, in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

The Malibu university erects its “Waves of Flags” display each year in Alumni Park, along Pacific Coast Highway. The display also includes a national flag for each foreign country that had a citizen die on 9/11.

Volunteers place flags on the lawn in front of Pepperdine University for their annual “Wave of Flags” display in Malibu, CA., Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Each flag represents the life of one of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteers place flags on the lawn in front of Pepperdine University for their annual “Wave of Flags” display in Malibu, CA., Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Each flag represents the life of one of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteers place flags on the lawn in front of Pepperdine University for their annual “Wave of Flags” display in Malibu, CA., Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Each flag represents the life of one of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteers place flags on the lawn in front of Pepperdine University for their annual “Wave of Flags” display in Malibu, CA., Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Each flag represents the life of one of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteers place flags on the lawn in front of Pepperdine University for their annual “Wave of Flags” display in Malibu, CA., Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Each flag represents the life of one of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteers place flags on the lawn in front of Pepperdine University for their annual “Wave of Flags” display in Malibu, CA., Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Each flag represents the life of one of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteers place flags on the lawn in front of Pepperdine University for their annual “Wave of Flags” display in Malibu, CA., Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Each flag represents the life of one of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteers place flags on the lawn in front of Pepperdine University for their annual “Wave of Flags” display in Malibu, CA., Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Each flag represents the life of one of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteers place flags on the lawn in front of Pepperdine University for their annual “Wave of Flags” display in Malibu, CA., Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Each flag represents the life of one of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteers place flags on the lawn in front of Pepperdine University for their annual “Wave of Flags” display in Malibu, CA., Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Each flag represents the life of one of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteers place flags on the lawn in front of Pepperdine University for their annual “Wave of Flags” display in Malibu, CA., Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Each flag represents the life of one of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteers place flags on the lawn in front of Pepperdine University for their annual “Wave of Flags” display in Malibu, CA., Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Each flag represents the life of one of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteers place flags on the lawn in front of Pepperdine University for their annual “Wave of Flags” display in Malibu, CA., Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Each flag represents the life of one of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteers place flags on the lawn in front of Pepperdine University for their annual “Wave of Flags” display in Malibu, CA., Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Each flag represents the life of one of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteers place flags on the lawn in front of Pepperdine University for their annual “Wave of Flags” display in Malibu, CA., Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Each flag represents the life of one of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteers place flags on the lawn in front of Pepperdine University for their annual “Wave of Flags” display in Malibu, CA., Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Each flag represents the life of one of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteers place flags on the lawn in front of Pepperdine University for their annual “Wave of Flags” display in Malibu, CA., Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Each flag represents the life of one of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteer Susan Rose places flags on the lawn in front of Pepperdine University for their annual “Wave of Flags” display in Malibu, CA., Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Each flag represents the life of one of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Volunteers place flags on the lawn in front of Pepperdine University for their annual “Wave of Flags” display in Malibu, CA., Wednesday, September 8, 2021. Each flag represents the life of one of the 2,977 people killed in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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The tradition began in 2008, when Pepperdine University students were inspired by a similar tribute. The massive display of flags draws visitors from all over and attracts attention from across the nation and world.

Approximately 175 volunteers worked to place the flags on rebar embedded in the ground at equal spaces.

“This is a tangible way to celebrate and honor all the lives lost on that tragic day,” said Associate Vice President and University Registrar Hung Le, who has volunteered with his family since the exhibit began. “Every year I walk through the display and I am deeply saddened as I think about each flag representing one life, one family with an empty seat at the table.”

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