Never Forget: Pittsboro Memorial Honors 9/11 First Responders
“The line between life and death that morning was as straight as a steel beam. Everyone on the 92nd floor died. Everyone on the 91st floor lived.” – 9/11 Commission Report of The North Tower
We shall never forget. December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese is a day that my grandparents never forgot. My parents were deeply affected the day that President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. And my generation will forever remember the day The Twin Towers in Manhattan’s World Trade Center were brutally attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001.
The events of September 11th are perpetually etched into the fabric of our memories. President Roosevelt described the attack on Pearl Harbor as “a date which will live in infamy.”
Unfortunately, history reveals more days like Pearl Harbor that continue to live in infamy through each generation. Where were you when the towers fell? What were you doing at that exact moment when you heard the news? Most people can recall what they were doing the moment the news was broadcast around the world. Thinking back to that day, I can still feel the pit in my stomach, the tightening of my chest, the breath of inhale without the exhale watching the events unfold.
We were all filled with so many emotions of shock and awe, confusion and sadness beyond belief. I still can’t seem to shake the image of watching the towers tumble to the ground with all those people still trapped in the building. Or the people jumping to their death from the tower windows to escape the fire and smoke. It was a disastrous day that ended in rubble but also brought the world together and humanity prevailed. Hope always seems to spring eternal.
Every day on my way to work, I pass by the remnants of the wreckage from the tragic events of that day.
From my Pittsboro office window, there stands in the faint distance a steel structure 19 feet tall in the slight shape of a cross.
Leaning just 9 degrees and 11 minutes facing directly toward Ground Zero in New York City, the steel beam from the North Tower of the World Trade Center weighs 12,000 pounds. The steel beam was acquired by the Chatham County 911 First Responder Memorial Foundation and was donated by The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Pieces of the collapsed towers were stored in Hangar 17 at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Hangar 17 was known as the infamous “Tomb of the Unknown” and became a temporary memorial wreckage site. The 80,000 square foot hangar stored artifacts from large fragmented and bent fire engines, police cars, and subway trains to the smallest artifacts of mangled keys, identity cards, wrist watches and mobile phones – so many precious items lost that will be forever unclaimed. The huge steel beams from the base of the towers were also stored there and have become part of local memorials nationally and internationally.
Since 2010, The Port Authority has found homes for most of the artifacts and today the hangar is almost empty. During that time, 2,500 items have been distributed to approximately 1,440 municipalities, schools, fire departments, and nonprofits foundations at no cost. The mission of The Port Authority has been to preserve all the artifacts recovered from Ground Zero and distribute them for local viewing across all 50 states. None of the steel beams have been recycled or discarded. After more than a decade, Hangar 17 is set to close by the end of summer 2016.
The steel beam representing the Chatham County 911 First Responder Memorial Foundation displays original white markings “J75/4” indicating the beam is from the North Tower of the basement subway area. Engineers identified many pieces by the original markings stenciled or marked in white or yellow. The stamped markings date back to the 60’s and 70’s so that construction workers knew where to place each piece in the construction of the building. For crime scene investigators, these markings would serve as clues 30 years later in identifying the wreckage that followed the terrorist attack. Artifacts housed at Hangar 17 were considered part of a crime scene. Before steel beams or any other artifacts from the hangar could be donated, the removal had to go through the Port Authority and be approved by a federal judge or the Federal Bureau of Investigations.
The North Tower was the first building struck by hijacked United Airlines Flight 11 where the impact left a huge hole from the 94th to the 98th floors. The impact caused massive structural damage and ignited 3,000 gallons of jet fuel the plane was carrying. The jet fuel leaked down the elevator shafts causing a massive explosion in the lower parking areas and subway terminal. The 9/11 commission report stated, “A jet fuel fireball erupted upon impact and shot down at least one bank of elevators. The fireball exploded onto numerous lower floors, including the 77th and 22nd; the West Street lobby level; and the B4 level, four stories below ground.” The courageous efforts of the first responders and other emergency services helped 25,000 people escape before the North Tower collapsed leaving a gaping hole in the New York City landscape and taking nearly 3,000 lives.
Since 2009 the Chatham County 911 First Responder Memorial Foundation has worked tirelessly to establish a 911 memorial to honor those that were lost that day. Lack of funding has taken this project 15 years to complete, but thanks to private donations and dedicated volunteers from the community and first responders, the memorial will take place September 10, 2016 at 10:00 am.
The 911 Memorial is located next to the Chatham County Justice Center in Pittsboro. The 9/11 memorial developed for Chatham County 911 First Responder Memorial Foundation was designed by Corley Redfoot Architects. The project has been a labor of love for Mr. Billy Williams and those involved with the foundation. Mr. Williams would not only wants to honor those who gave their lives that day, but also to honor those who are still protecting and serving our community of Pittsboro and Chatham County. The scheduled event will include the Honor Guard of the Sherriff Department and a time capsule will be placed at the memorial.
The time capsule will contain the names of all first responders in Chatham County and the names of the first responders that lost their lives in New York. As time passes, more people have become determined to build memorials close to their homes to remind the world that the events of Sept. 11 affected not only everyone in America but created a ripple effect that extended across the globe.
Mr. Williams stated:
- I would like to see everyone take away the fact that “We Shall Never Forget” what happened that day and how it changed the world. This should continue to be passed down through our children, grandchildren, etc.
The organization is still seeking for tax deductible donations to complete the remaining work. If you would like to contribute to the foundation, you can mail the donation to:
PO Box 328
Pittsboro, NC 27312