by SARAH NACHIN
Everyone who personally witnessed the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001 or sat glued to their television sets watching as the tragedy played out will have that day etched in their memories forever.
On Wednesday Sept. 11, 2019, eighteen years after that fateful day, a memorial was dedicated to honor the firefighters, police and other first responders who worked tirelessly to help rescue the victims of the terrorist attacks. Many of these men and women sacrificed their lives in this endeavor. The memorial consists of a portion of a steel beam from the World Trade Center supported by two pairs of hands sculpted from steel.
The dedication took place at the City of Brooksville Public Safety Complex. A large crowd made up of city and county officials, first responders and members of the community attended the ceremony. The event began with a rendition of “America, the Beautiful” by Tom Fritz playing the bagpipes.
In his opening remarks, Brooksville Fire Chief Ronald Snowberger remarked that 9/11 was the single largest loss of life resulting from a foreign attack on American soil.
“Through tragedy and tribulation Americans have united in patriotic solidarity and we pledge to forever honor the lives of the fallen that we will never forget,” Chief Snowberger stated.
After Snowberger’s brief address, an honor guard presented the American flag and raised it up the flagpole to half-staff. Meghan Lillibridge sang the National Anthem and Chaplain Michael Pope gave the Invocation. Afterwards, Brooksville Mayor William Kemerer introduced the speakers and welcomed everyone.
District Fire Chief Mike Dow recognized and thanked the following who gave their support in various ways to make the memorial possible: The New York Port Authority, United Parcel Service (UPS), Brooksville Fire Department, Steel Artist Chet Merry, Flagstone Pavers, Weeki Wachee Stone Yard, Merritt Funeral Homes, Hernando County Sheriff’s Office, Brooksville City Council, City Manager Mark Kutney, Brooksville Facilities Department, Day Metal Products, Crumpton Welding Supply, Elite Fence and Dot Aluminum Rail, Hernando County Fire Rescue Local 3760, and Suncoast Powder Coating.
Bart Citro, owner of Weeki Wachee Stone Yard, in addressing the audience, commented, “When you see a steel beam like this you realize how many people that day died. Beneath this beam is thirty yards of crushed concrete symbolizing the rock solid foundation our nation was built on.”
Steve Wilson, retired Army Sergeant Major who was stationed at the Pentagon that day, gave a moving and detailed account of his experiences. He was part of a unit ministry team acting as a chaplain there and saw the events unfold on T.V. as the first plane hit the first tower. When Wilson and his associates saw the second plane hit the other tower they knew that it was no accident. Just a few moments later he heard a thud when the third plane hit the Pentagon and he knew they were being attacked. Everyone was ordered to evacuate, but he and another chaplain decided that they needed to go back in so they could give spiritual comfort to the wounded. They barely escaped when one of the floors collapsed as an aftermath of the impact. He explained that the terrorists had purposely chosen September 11 because it was exactly sixty years prior (September 11, 1941) that construction of the Pentagon began.
Wilson stated, “The terrorists wanted September 11 to be a day when the innocent died, but (quoting former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld) instead it was a day when heroes were born.”
Sheriff Al Nienhuis reflected on his visit to the Ground Zero memorial in New York City and how moved he was to hear the stories of that fateful day. He recommended that everyone pay a visit to that memorial.
“Even eighteen years later we are still coming together, working hard to remember and making sure that they [the terrorists] did not accomplish their mission to divide us,” Nienhuis remarked.
Chet Merry, who works for Hernando County Fire Rescue, was the artist who sculpted the two pairs of hands at the base of the steel beam. The project took him five months to complete. One set of hands represents firefighters and one set represents law enforcement personnel. The section of steel beam was donated by the New York Port Authority.
Deputy Chief Stan Mettinger with the Brooksville Fire Department related the long road to making the memorial possible. They started the project in 2011. One of the biggest barriers was the fact that they couldn’t find anyone who would pick up the steel beam in New York City without charging a lot of money. They were approaching a deadline to pick up the beam or they would lose the opportunity to use it for the memorial. This was when UPS stepped up. The parcel delivery service offered to pick up the 795-pound piece of steel and deliver it at no charge. The beam arrived in 2013. Then the project stalled again because they had no funds to move forward. However, in June of 2018 they were able to resume the project due to the help and financial support of numerous people.
Last to speak was Joel Kanasky, who retired from the Fire Department of New York City (F.D.N.Y.) Rescue 1 based in Manhattan. It is one one of the most elite units. He was working on September 11 and was a first-hand witness. Kanasky reflected on the days after 9/11. He described how people from fire departments all around the world came to work side-by-side at Ground Zero and how they came to stand in formation at the funerals of their fellow firefighters because so many from the New York fire departments were either dead or working in search and rescue efforts.
“Here we are eighteen years later and my brothers and sisters are still standing to remember,” Kanasky stated. “We lose about one firefighter or first responder a week due to illnesses brought on by 9/11.”
The dedication ceremony ended with a moment of silence, after which Tom Fritz played “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes.
The public is encouraged to visit the 9/11 Memorial and see this beautiful testimony to our heroes. It is located at 85 Veterans Avenue, Brooksville.