A groundbreaking was held Thursday to mark the building of a 9/11 monument at the Air Mobility Command Museum next to Dover Air Force Base. The goal is to have the tribute ready by Sept. 11. (Gary Emeigh / The News Journal)
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DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, DEL. — Twelve years ago today, steel beam C-145 was in place on the 81st floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower. Four weeks later, and 102 minutes after terrorists flew an airliner into the building on Sept. 11, it was part of the sea of rubble from the crumbled office towers.
This Sept. 11, C-145 along with a C-96 – both now bowed and coated with a fine brown rust – will be part of a 9/11 memorial being built at the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base. The monument will honor firefighters and other first responders everywhere.
“This is a recognition of our trust and faith in our first responders,” said Col. Rick Moore, commander of the 436th Airlift Wing, during Thursday’s brief groundbreaking ceremony. “There are few of us that run towards a fire. There are very few of us that run towards a burning aircraft.”
The new memorial, he said, will be “a great way to recognize the contributions of some first responders that made the ultimate sacrifice ... and a place for us to say thank you.”
The dedication will mark the fourth year since the base’s Eagle Firefighters Association sent a letter to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey requesting the steel remnants. The authority, which oversees the office complex in New York City, maintains recovered 9/11 steel at Hangar 17 at John F. Kennedy International Airport and distributes the pieces through the World Trade Center Steel Program.
Forty-nine other states have 9/11 memorials that include World Trade Center steel. On Sept. 11, Delaware will become the 50th, Moore said.
The firefighters had hoped to have a memorial completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 and prompted the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. They quickly discovered that the project would require much more time — far beyond the year it took to get the steel.
“We had no concept of the depth of paperwork we would have to go through to get this,” said Patti Bunch, a 911 dispatcher at the base, the association’s treasurer and an original member of the committee in charge of the project.
The final approval authority was the secretary of the Air Force but, she said, “It had to (go) through about 50 other people, I think.”
“And they didn’t want us starting it until we had every dollar accounted for,” said Aaron Weisenberger, a base fire captain and the association’s president.
That’s been done. The project will cost about $35,000, Weisenberger said. More than $22,000 has been raised, mostly through the sale of commemorative bricks that will be laid at the base.
Area businesses are making up the difference, he said, donating design, groundwork, engineering, lighting, and onyx and granite work.
“It’s been a long road, with fundraising, logistics, some setbacks,” said Rod Coleman, the department’s deputy fire chief. “But everything has come together.”
The steel beams, measuring 8½ feet and 10½ feet long, respectively, will be cradled by a piece of granite in a “V” shape that will point toward New York City and be set on a compass-shaped base that will also point toward Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pa., where two other commandeered airliners crashed. The association also is obtaining an 8- by 10-inch stone from Shanksville that will be incorporated into the memorial.
The firefighters wanted it built at the base fire station. That, however, would have limited the public’s ability to see it, Weisenberger said.
“And there’s people from as far away as California that bought bricks,” he said. “They should be entitled to come see it also.”
The finished memorial is being given as a gift to the Air Force and maintained by the museum, Coleman said. It’ll be started and finished in about three weeks — an eyebrow-raising goal.
“Trust me — I’m one of the first ones that’s skeptical,” said Weisenberger. “But if the professionals say they can do it, then we trust them.”
Weisenberger made it official during his remarks at the ceremony.
“Monday morning, they’re hittin’ the ground runnin,’ ” Weisenberger said.
“Next time we see you guys out here Sept. 11, you get to see the fruits of our labor and see how good it turned out,” he added.