By Kari Bray Herald Writer
ARLINGTON — The city’s 9/11 memorial is almost complete, three years after Arlington firefighters drove across the country to bring home a 13-foot, 4,373-pound piece of World Trade Center steel.
It’s been a community effort, led by the Arlington Fire Department and supported by local businesses, craftsmen and other volunteers. The memorial’s dedication is set for 6 p.m. Sept. 11 at Firehouse 46, 115 N. Macleod Ave.
“It’s just kind of remarkable,” project coordinator Terry Marsh said. “It’s one of those things you only see a couple of times in your life, when people really come together. It’s just really amazing.”
Volunteers are in the middle of their final fundraising effort. Though most of the labor and materials for the memorial were donated, they hope to raise $41,500 to cover other services and supplies.
To raise the funds, “Arlington Remembers” challenge coins are for sale at $100 apiece. Each coin is etched with the name of a first responder who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Of 415 coins, about 300 are left to purchase, fundraising coordinator Linda Byrnes said. The coins and memorial honor 343 firefighters and 72 police officers.
“We want them to always remember the person whose name they’re carrying. We want them to remember that there are people out there who put their lives on the line every day,” Byrnes said. “And bottom line, we want them not to forget that this happened and changed our world in a way that it will never be the same.”
While the challenge coins are shiny and new, the city’s World Trade Center artifact is anything but. The steel is rusted and scarred, with concrete and twisted metal wedged in the corners.
That’s the way it looked when Arlington firefighters picked it up in New York, Deputy Fire Chief Tom Cooper said. And that’s the way it’ll stay.
The beam now sits in an alcove in front of Firehouse 46. Local craftsmen created the alcove’s floor and walls, a lighted ceiling and a multi-layered steel backdrop.
Plaques are set to be engraved with the same names that are etched into the challenge coins. Another set of plaques chronicles the history of the steel, from its last moments as part of the World Trade Center to its trip across the country in 2011.
“For a lot of people 10 to 15 years from now, it will be a piece of history but not a memory,” Cooper said. “This is so incredible that a piece of history is now in Arlington and open to the public.”
The department plans to keep the memorial lit at all times. The steel beam is one of a handful of World Trade Center artifacts in the state, Cooper said.
“We want this steel to be accessible to the public so they can see it and touch it and reflect on the event and the lives lost that day,” he said.
Byrnes said it can be hard to grasp the scope of the World Trade Center attacks. Having a memorial that people can see and touch, along with coins that carry the names of first responders, preserves the memory.
“People are forgetting, and you have to do something to make sure that doesn’t happen in your piece of the world,” she said.
For businesses and workers who contributed to the memorial, the effort was personal, Marsh said. He and Cooper recalled craftsmen who heard about the project and said, “I’ll help, but you can’t pay me for this.”
Businesses that contributed include: Coast Construction Group, Island Masonry, Cuz Concrete, Plaster Craft Construction, ProBuild, Pick-Up Man and Penway Media.
Cooper said it’s important for people to be able to touch the steel and ponder its history.
He knows a New York firefighter who lost a good friend in the attacks. As soon as he was able to order a challenge coin, Cooper bought the one with the firefighter’s name and gave it to his friend.
“One of the things I always think is ‘where was this steel in the rubble pile?’” Cooper said. “We don’t know … What we do know is a lot of good people died around it — police, firefighters, workers, airline passengers. Americans.”